06 September 2008

Albania!

Although Ive had no specific desire to visit Albania, Im always up for seeing new places, and particularly trying to add more countries onto the ˝list˝ Many tour operators in Budva were offering 1 day trips into the country with stops in 3 cities, giving a small taste of the country. Of course, i had to jump on one of these trips....the only downside was that we had to leave at 6AM.

So, the night before, a group of us from the hostel decide to go out. Everyone wanted to go out for a big night, but I decided that I would just tag along for a couple drinks......before you know it a couple turned into much more, shots were probably involved, and I started heading home at 2AM while the rest of the guys were going to check out another club.

Leaving the hostel at about 5.30AM, I ran into all the guys I went out with just coming home! I guess I missed a much bigger night.

The bus was made up of mostly Russian tourists...in fact the only other English speaking people were a couple from Australia. So, the tour leader would say his speech in Russian, then head over to the 3 of us and give us an English translation.

My impressions of Albania before I got to the country was that it was a very poor country, and still has communist aspects. From the little that I did see, my initial impressions were true.

We first stopped in Skhodra, a city just across the border from Montenegro. We hit the countryćs largest Orthodox Church as well as a local Mosque. Then hit Durres, a beach resort town and the capital city, Tirana. Durres, our tour leader explained to us is where the Albanians go on their vacations. It was actually quite similar to Budva, except it looked like it was a lot more run'down.

In Tirana, we had a nice lunch in a fancy Tirana restaurant. There were still many communisit aspects in the city. A large communist mural in the main square, big statutes of Albanian heros, and very uniform looking apartment buildings.

Although im glad I went, I think I would not be able to spend much more time in Albania.

No time for internet

I have to apologize again for not keeping up to date with the blog, but I found that I prefer hanging out on the beach much more than writing about what Ive been up to......anyway Ill try to catch up soon.

03 September 2008

Budva - Like a Russian Cancun

I finally arrived in Budva - and it really is like Russia's Cancun. The beach is dotted with shops, bars, restaurants, everything is in Russian since about 90% of the tourists are Russian. At night, the entire beach seems to turn into a mega-club.

With Russians comes EXTREMELY LOUD techno music at night all across the beach, and scantily clad women dancing on stripper poles (not kidding - I will post the video when I get home). The Russians also bring their family in - so yes, there are little kids in the "clubs."

I mean - I don't like to generalize, but I've visited Russia and many Russian vacation destinations and they all seem to be exactly the same for nightlife (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Varna....). Woman barely wearing anything - and the little that they are wearing is gold or silver, or both or some type of shiny. Guys wearing tight shirts - no matter what their body type is. Really tacky souvenirs - which are gold, silver, or some type of shiny - and they are willing to shell out tons of cash for it.

Don't get me wrong - I think that Budva, and Montenegro is gorgeous - but the Russian areas are just tacky. Ugh.

29 August 2008

Onto Montenegro

This morning, I caught an early bus (7AM!!) to Budva, in Montenegro. The 8 hour drive was amazing! First, we saw the last of the beautiful Bosnian countryside and then went onto the Croatian coast. The water is soo blue and the beaches looked gorgeous. Five-star resorts dotted the waterfront all the way along the beach. Then, we entered Montenegro and the amazing views continued. One of the highlights was driving through the town of Kotor, which apparently has the highest fjord in all of Eastern Europe. The main part of the town is the walled city, but there is also a massive fortress high above the hill overlooking the water. Apparently, it is 1500 steps to the top! Not sure if I'll be climbing that.

We got into the resort town of Budva, and it is VERY touristy. There are shops and restaurants lining the beach, hotels and sunbathers everywhere. However, this is a nice change from coming from oppressively hot cities. I can't wait to hit the beaches...

The Tour

One of the big reasons I went to Mostar was because of this "Tour" that I had heard of pretty much in every city I had been to prior to Mostar. It was a full day of hiking, swimming, sightseeing and history.

Well, it started off great. We started with a panorama view of the city of Mostar from a hill that overlooked the entire city. Our tour guide gave us a personal account of what occurred during the war and how he was able to escape the country.

Later, we went to the famous pilgrimage sight of Medjugorje, which according to the locals, the Virgin Mary appeared to children on a hill near the town. Today, over 1 million pilgrims come to the site - which has become a huge tourist trap in itself.

We later went to a local swimming spot, filled with waterfalls and lakes. Some in our group tried to do a 30 foot jump into the water below. In order to jump, you had to do a bit of a running start in order to clear a tree growing out of the side of a cliff, and you really couldn't see the bottom from the top.....I chickened out at the top of the cliff. We went through caves, through waterfalls, and even swam under waterfalls.

Afterwards, we left and headed to more local sights, however our van broke down.......unfortunately this ended the tour with the exception of a dinner we had near a riverbank. Sometimes, you just have to be ready for setbacks, and this was unfortunately one of them.

26 August 2008

Onto Mostar



This morning, I left Sarajevo to travel to the smaller city of Mostar, Bosnia. This city went through even more destruction from the war and it is a lot more obvious driving through. There are many ruins of bombed out buildings scattered throughout the city.




The big attraction of Mostar is the famous old bridge, which was built in the 16th century and stood for over 400 years until the war in the 1990s destroyed the bridge. In the early 2000s the bridge was rebuilt again. Today, tourists and locals may jump off of the bridge into the water below.....literally about a 60 foot drop. A bit too adventurous for me....however I saw a big group of Aussies and Kiwis doing it today.




The small streets and alleyways surroudning the bridge are also very fun to explore. I bought a few more souviniers today before having a traditional lunch consisting of locall caught trout, and a tomato, cucumber and cheese salad.

Last Night in Sarajevo

My last night in Sarajevo was very quiet in the hostel, only like 5 people were checked in. So, i thoght Id take it easy and watch a movie in the living room......however, about 20 minutes into it, a huge group of people checked in and asked me if I wanted to go to dinner and drinks. Who can resist that. My "just a couple drinks" night turned into a full on party. First, we went to a club that had a great local band playing. They did songs in both Bosnian and also covers of American songs.



Then it turned into more American style hip-hop music.....and we drank the night away. So much for a quiet night.....

Wandering Around Sarajevo

I wanted to stay an extra day just to get lost in the streets of Sarajevo. I really do love this city, its my favorite one on the trip so far and really one of my favorites in Europe.

Today I started off with one of the traditional Bosnian pastries filled with cheese and spinach. They also do a meat version (of course) but I think Ive had a bit of a meat overload so far. I wandered the Turkish part of town called, Baščaršija. It is like he bazaar in Istanbul, but a bit less touristy and a bit more manageable.

I then wandered through the modern part of town where there are very expensive stores and cafes. I think this is a great part of town, where you really see how alive the city is. Everyone seems to just really try to enjoy life and takes it nice and slow.

I kept walking toward the end of the downtown part of town to see the Holiday Inn for a few more pictures and also the History Musuem located across the street. Here there were many artifacts from the war....it still is unbelieveable to me that this occured only a little over a decade ago, and how much the city has recovered since then.

One other thing about this city that I love is that there is sooo much diversity here. Today I went into a Mosque, a Church and a Synagogue, all within a 5 minute walk away from each other.

Lastly, I had to try a Bosnian Coffee. It is very similar to a Turkish coffee, tiny, strong and thick. Perhaps youve noticed that a big part of my travels revolves around food.

My Writing Sucks.....

I have to apologize for the poor quality of my writing, but as I said before Im just having too much fun to continue to be witty while I'm on the road. Especially when Im also trying to remember everything that happened in the past day or 2.

25 August 2008

Sarajevo Walking Tour

I'm staying at Harris Youth Hostel in Sarajevo, and this man is a legend. Even from Zagreb I have been hearing about how awesome his walking tour is, and how I MUST take it. The tour was not disappointing at all, we got a personalized view of the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s - one of the biggest reason Sarajevo is so famous as well as a good insight into the history and culture of the city.

Our first stop was the Tunnel Museum near the Sarajevo airport. While the city was under siege, the people of Sarajevo built a tunnel that linked the airport to the city. It was a complete lifeline for the city bringing in food, water, electricity and telephone communications. The UN had protected the airport, but would not let the Bosnians in or out of the city via the airport. We were able to walk a very small part of the tunnel, seeing what it would have been like to try to bring food and water back to your starving town.

During the siege of Sarajevo over 11,000 people were killed and almost half were children. Its hard to believe that this occurred within our lifetime, and also that locals I meet here who are my age remember trying to dodge sniper bullets when they were younger.

Our next stop was Sniper Alley, which is where many people had to go through to get to the food hand-outs since the entire city was cut off from the world. As you would guess from the name, this is where many people, including women and children were killed randomly by snipers sitting in the hills above Sarajevo. Many buildings in the city are still riddled with bullet holes and there are also markings from mortar attacks in the city. Walking on the sidewalk you often see red paint where mortar attacks occurred. These are called Sarajevo Roses and mark where mortar attacks occurred that were generally very deadly.

Our next stop was the bombed out parliament building....today a new modern glass one stands right next to it. Also down the block is probably the most famous Holiday Inn in the world. Although the Serbians initially bombed the building, the UN later protected it and it became the place where journalists who were covering Sarajevo stayed.

Sarajevo was also famous for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, and almost every venue created for the games was destroyed be the Serbians. Today, many have been rebuilt since the war ended - exactly as they used to be. Our tour took us to the Olympic Stadium.

Lastly, our tour ended in the Turkish part of town where many of the markets and bizarres are. We also had traditional Bosnian food, which again involves much meat. One of the dishes has small sausages and onions and cheese stuffed into a pita-type bread. Its great energy for the day.

24 August 2008

Bus to Sarajevo

I had a long day ahead of me, a nearly 8 hour bus trip to my next destination, Sarajevo. The bus itself was pretty empty and I met a Bosnian woman who wanted to practice her English so she made the time go faster.

I am very glad I did the trip during the day, as the Bosnian countryside is gorgeous! It was filled with mountains, rivers and cute towns. A quick stop at Serbian exit customs and Bosnian entrance customs and the scenery began almost instantaneously. The highlight of the trip, of course was driving into Sarajevo. The city is located in a valley and is completely surrounded by mountains, so you can see the entire city when you are driving along the mountains above the city.

I instantly realized why it was so easy for the Serbians to seize the city as you get a very good birds eye view of the city, making it easy for snipers and tanks to take out the city (more on this later).

I made it to my hostel which was a massive walk up a hill above the old town. However, the view of the city from their balcony is AWESOME. I met a group of people from the hostel and we went out to enjoy the Sarajevo nightlife!

Awesome T-shirt

At the Beer Festival I saw this guy with a very retro t-shirt that said "Beograd" in multicolors down the shirt. I asked him where to get it and I searched the city for it. Turns out, its at the Nike store in Belgrade. Best $20 I Ever spent!

Novi Sad

I decided to take a day trip to Novi Sad from Belgrade. Its a smaller city north of Belgrade about 1.5 hours by bus.

On the way there they were blasing Celine Dion all the way up. I had to blast my iPod to overcome the sounds.

Novi Sad is becoming popular for the big European music festival, Exit. However, Ive heard that the town itself is cool and is worth a day trip. I completely agree....but I am glad I didnt spend more than a day there.

The highlight of the town is a gigantic fortress overlooking Novi Sad on the Danube. It is massive, and it took me nearlz an hour just to find the entrance. The worst part is that it was well into the 90s that day....so it made for a very hot day.

The town itself has a major pedestrian mall that runs through it. There were some cute churches and stores along the way. I was also able to grab some food and just wander for a bit....spending a few hours before heading back to Belgrade. It was a good day trip, but I woudln't recommend staying much longer.

Sorry for the slow posts

..........but Im just having waaay too much fun to stop on the computer all the time.

23 August 2008

Too much meat!!

I went out to dinner with the 3 British guys I met in Zagreb. We decided to try a small Serbian restaurant near our hostel. The waiter spoke very little English but was adamant that each of us order a mixed grill. Almost every meal in Serbia involves meat, usually grilled. We ordered 5 mixed grills and salads and we got 2 HUGE plates of meat and salad.

He first brought out one plate which was plenty for all of us, and then he brought out a second plate!! They were filled with sausage, chicken cutlets, pork cutlets. It was a meat overload

21 August 2008

Is Nikola Tesla Croatian or Serbian???

Today was a bit of a lazy day in Belgrade. I went out with Cat and Ali, two Australian girls who were in my room to check out the Nikola Tesla Museum. Here in Belgrade, they claim that he is Serbian. In Croatia, they claim he is Croatian. Wikipedia says he was born in Croatia....its all very confusing. Both capital cities have museums devoted to him, and both are pretty cool. Unfortunately, the one in Belgrade is under renovation so most of it is not yet open to the public.

We walked more downtown, had a few drinks in a cafe, and had lunch in the Citadel overlooking the Danube river. I had a traditional Serbian hamburger - which is essentially a hamburger patty - twice the size of an American burger served by itself like a steak. Sometimes there is a side of fries.

Tomorrow, I plan to take a day trip to the city of Novi Sad, about 1.5 hours away from Belgrade. Many people know it for its famous European music festival Exit. However, I heard the town itself is a very fun, attractive Serbian town with a cool citadel as well.

Belgrade Beer Fest


I rarely make it in time to random cities for all the different festivals in Europe. But tonight I'm very lucky since I made it to Belgrade for the opening night of Belgrade Beer Fest 2008. It was insane. There were tents of beer, a huge stage, and even carnival rides (with techno music to boot) I felt like it was a carnival on speed.

We ran around, tried all the different beers: Montenegrin, Serbian, Croatian, and German. Then we rode the bumper cars! It was awesome. I felt like i was in high school again.

Later, we listened to some local Serbian bands. The local Serbians loved me, they kept talking to me and even threw me in the middle of a mosh pit! The Serbians know how to party!

Belgrade is famous for its club life and rumor has it that it is the best city to go clubbing in Europe. In fact, in the Sava River there are about 2 or 3 barges that were completely gutted and made into huge clubs. I plan to hit one (or more) before I leave.

To Belgrade


I finally made it to Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. Ideally, I would have gotten enough rest on the train in order to hit the ground running...but that didn't happen.

Ideal Situation: You jump on an overnight train, get a good nights rest, arrive at the new destination feeling refreshed and ready to hit the new city running.

Reality: Couldn't find seats....finally found one with 3 seats across so I could lie across the carriage....however there were 3 individual seats so it wasn't flat and couldn't get comfy enough to sleep. Finally pass out, yet the conductor comes in, turns on the lights and checks my tickets twice. Croatian customs comes to wake me up in order to give me an exit stamp. Serbian customs comes in to give me an entry stamp - questions what I am doing in Serbia. UGH. Train arrives 1 hour late and I am EXHAUSTED!

On the plus side, I met a really nice Serbian guy on the train who was living in Ljubljana, Slovenia and gave me some pointers on stuff to do in Belgrade. Although there aren't typical touristy sights to see, it is just a fun city to walk around to get a feel of. It is a lot more of a gritty city than Zagreb, but it is also twice as big.

Walking towards the hostel, I was able to see some of the office buildings that were bombed out by NATO in the 1990s. It was a grim site, but certainly very interesting. I can't wait to get to Bosnia to really understand what happened during the war more. Since I got to the hostel at like 7.30, my bed wasn't available until the afternoon - so I wandered around the city with a Germany guy who was also on the train from Zagreb.

We went to Belgrade's most famous site - the citadel which is a fort overlooking the entire city on a cliff where the Danube and the Sava rivers meet. The views were amazing, and the fort itself was pretty cool (pictured above). Back in the hostel, I met a cool group of Aussies and Brits. The Brits happened to be staying in my hostel in Zagreb. We plan a big night tonite.

19 August 2008

Wandering Around Zagreb


Tonight I say goodbye to Zagreb as I board an overnight train into Belgrade, Serbia. I am really starting to like this town. Its very cute, everyone is friendly and the people here just seem to know how to relax. Whether its taking a leisurely stroll along the streets, or taking an hour at a coffee shop or even just grabbing an ice cream on the street. Its a cute town.

This morning I took a bus to what my guidebooks are saying is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe, Mirogoj Cemetery. And it certainly was. The entrance was made of huge cupolas and arches, and apparently houses manz of Croatia's famous people. See the picture before - still not mine trying to figure out where I can upload pics.

Later I made my way to the Technical Museum of Zagreb, which houses many different advances in technology - wasnćt sure if it was specifically Croatian related because much of it was in Croatian. However, there was a large section devoted to Nikola Tesla who is of course famous for technological advances in electricity and magnetism and is credited with changing the night scenery in America.

Now, i am just waiting for my overnight train to Belgrade. I hate waiting for things like late trains and buses - you always feel like you are trying to kill time. I guess it gives me time to catch up on my blog.

Pictures


I really need to figure out how to upload my pics....it always seems to take forever. In the meantime heres a picture of the lakes I went to yesterday.

Zagreb Nightlife Busts again

So, after Sunday night being a bust, me and the 2 Brits from my hostel last night were up for a big night again. Unfortunately, Monday in Zagreb is just like Sunday in Zagreb and is a quiet night as well. We sat in a few of the open air cafes and grabbed some beers, and also spoke to the locals about places to go out but everyone says that its quiet in Zagreb on Mondays.

One thing that I did notice here in Zagreb is that everyone speaks English - or at least enough to help you out if you are lost or need directions. Everyone is really friendly too....we went up to a group of locals and they invited us to sit with them and were really friendly all night.

18 August 2008

Foreign Service Exam

Woohoo! I passed.......now i have to wait a billion weeks to see if they'll bring me in for an interview.

Plitvice Lakes

It was awesome! Although completely crowded, with tourists, the lakes and waterfalls were great. The Plitvice Lakes is a massive site with tons of waterfalls, lakes and just great natural views. With about a 2.5 hour bus ride from Zagreb I was able to make a day trip out of it.

The way there was almost a nightmare. The city of Zagreb lost power this morning, so none of the trams were working. I was trying to run to the bus station, but it was pretty far from the city center. Luckily the power came back on, but all the trams were very delayed. I made it to the bus station 5 minutes before my bus was leaving. Hopping on at the very last second.

You can take any number of paths ranging from 3-8 hours of hiking. I decided to play it safe and did about a 6 hour hike. Your entrance fee also includes the boat rides and trams within the park. Although that almost makes it sounds like a theme park, they really are able to keep it a natural looking area. I was completely exhausted waiting for the bus back to Zagreb that I actually passed out at the bus station.

Zagreb

I love cities that have lots of pedestrian malls and parks and water fountains. Zagreb doesn't disappoint on any of those levels. I took a self guided walking tour and saw many of Zagreb's famous churches, the botanical gardens and just got lost in the city. Zagreb has many cute sidewalk cafes and restaurants and because it is still undiscovered by the masses is very affordable - and NOT crowded. Unfortunately Ive heard from other travelers that the coast right now is swamped with tourists.

Tonite I also met a bunch of people from the hostel - there was an American, a Canadian, a Dutch guy and a huge group of Maltans. We went out and tried to find fun, but apparently Sundaz nights in Zagreb are very quiet because everyone is coming from the coast.

Oh well....off to the Plitvice Lakes tomorrow which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

17 August 2008

My 40th Country

I woke up this morning to a great breakfast - and (almost) fully refreshed from the jet lag. Sometimes when it takes you so long to reach a destination that by the time you get there - you can hardly believe it.

That's the case here in Croatia - country number 40!

Transit to Zagreb

Finally here in Zagreb! It took a while (nearly 30 hours) but I made it.

Since my flight left from Dulles in DC, I took the Megabus to DC. Its one of the new cheap bus services on the east coast and it definitely kicks any of the Chinatown bus's asses. Our bus was even a double decker!

Ride down wasn't too bad, until we got to DC - then we were stuck in traffic for another hour or so (ugh!). But my friend Justin took me out to lunch before I took the bus out to the airport.

Dulles Airport was a nightmare! Of course I got the check-in guy who just HATED life and wasn't helpful at all. I paid for a bigger seat in Economy Plus but they still put me in a small seat in the last row of the plane. He also wouldn't help me with options to cancel my leg from Zagreb to Split. All in all check in and security took nearly 2 hours! God - i thought JFK was bad.

Luckily, the guy at the gate was more friendly and he got me a window seat in Economy Plus (bigger seats). The flight wasn't too bad, but you now have to pay for alcoholic drinks - damn United - most international carriers let you get sloshed for free.

I landed in Frankfurt at about 6.30 in the morning - but because they weren't ready for us - we didn't get off the plane and into the airport until about 7.30 AM. Still trying to cancel the last leg of my flight (Zagreb to Split), no one was really helpful at all.

So - with my 10 hour layover in Frankfurt - I decided to check out the town. It really isn't a bad city - I saw the old town, and the shops with all the high-end luxury stores. It was exactly what I would have thought of when thinking of a typical German city. Walked around the Main river, and learned to use the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn - Frankfurt's subway system.

Later in the morning - I met up with my old friend Aleks who happens to live in Frankfurt. She took me out to a fun brunch at a restaurant that was completely white - tables, curtains, doors, and seats. Then, later we went to what she claims as the "coolest" part of Frankfurt to hang out in a cafe.

Before long - it was back to the airport for the quick 1 hour flight to Zagreb - Croatia's capital city. I went to the Croatian Air customer service desk to beg them to let me off the next leg - expecting to fail. She said - "no problem" and even had them take my bag off the next flight and give it to me! Talk about good customer service. Why can't American carriers be more friendly.

Since I wasn't expecting to be in Zagreb for another day - I didn't have any accommodations planned, so I went to the hostel where I had reservations for the next night. Unfortunately they were full - and so was every hostel in my guidebook. UGH! I ended up splurging and stayed in a budget hotel for about 60 Euro - 3 times as much as the hostels. It was good for my 1st night to have TV, private bath, and even free breakfast since the jet-lag was really getting to me. I slept well that night........

15 August 2008

I'm off!

It's about 6.30AM and I'm in my apartment in NYC. I just showered and used the bathroom - probably the last clean bathroom I'll see for the next 3 weeks, and more than likely the only private bathroom. In fact, I'm probably going to be disgusting for the next 3 weeks....but we'll see. The plan today and tomorrow is a bit complex, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will go as planned.

Since I used my Mileage Plus miles for this trip the flights are kind of annoying. There were no mileage seats left on flights out of NYC today so I am taking a flight out of Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. The plan is to catch an 8AM bus to DC, and hopefully get in around 11.30AM. Meet up with my friend Justin for lunch before heading to the airport for my flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

In Germany, I have a 9 hour layover before my flight to Zagreb, Croatia. Luckily, my friend Aleks lives there and she and we'll have lunch and hang out in Frankfurt for a bit. Then, continue on to Zagreb, where I have a 5 hour layover before continuing on to the beach town of Split.

I actually would prefer to get off at Zagreb because I plan to continue my way to Belgrade from there. So, hopefully, the nice people on Air Croatia will allow me to cancel that leg without paying for it.

That's the ideal situation. Let's see how this actually plays out...........

31 July 2008

Western Balkans 2008!


Wow, its been a while since I've used this. I guess I haven't gone anywhere cool in a while. So, I have another awesome trip planned, and so the blog becomes active again. I've decided to go back to Europe, my most traveled to continent and I'm hitting up the less-touristy countries that make up the Western Balkans (here's a map - a lot of people don't really know where it is when I say that).

So, here's what's lined up so far. 3 Weeks - Start and end in Split, Croatia. I'd like to hit up Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and possibly Albania. Ambitious - maybe a little, but I usually am hard-core when I travel.

10 September 2007

The Mayan ruins at Copan




Almost there !












Harri and Hayley from the UK










The most famous face at Copan


























This is what the temples looked like when you walked inside the pyramids






















08 September 2007

Copan Ruinas

The quaint town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras









Honduras!




En route to the hot springs and a BBQ!




















The Honduran Countryside

Pictures

All my pics are available here:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Jonathan.A.Espiritu

Still slowly trying to update my blog

06 September 2007

Climbing the Pacaya Volcano


Early wake-up at 6am, ugh. The view and the experience were absolutely worth it.



Extremely tired and smelly - but very happy to have made it to the top. I think this picture sums it up.

Decending into the middle of the volcano.






















We enter the middle part of the volcano





Finally - at the center of the volcano! Some other guy who stayed in my hostel. video If you look closely you can see the moving lava



Pics Finally - Antigua, Guatemala




Random walks through Antigua - the entire city is a UNESCO Heritage site.












Parque Central









The main church downtown











  1. Downtown Antigua - The architecture was amazing. This was my 1st day in Guatemala - this is what I get for coming during the rainy season










































































































































03 September 2007

Back in the States

Well,

After a long travel day, I finally made it back to NYC. The trip was, of course, amazing. I shall post pics soon!

Last night in Cancun!

A visit in Cancun would not be complete without partying Cancun style in one of the many mega-clubs on the main hotel strip. So, we bought some alcohol and pre-partied at my hotel before heading out to Daddy O's and having a crazy, crazy, crazy night.....we'll leave it at that. :)

....Ugh, flying home hungover is NOT a good idea.

Last Day in Cancun

The end of the vacation has come...and I made sure the last day and night was a good one. Two British girls from my tour also stayed behind and we spent the entire day on the beach (the little that was left). Because all the beaches in Mexico are by law public, hotels cannot stop you from walking through their lobby to get to the beach. So, we picked one of the poshest hotels in Mexico, the ME by Melia, to walk to the beach. This was definately a hot hotel, it was a place for beautiful people to be seen. They had gorgeous pools, a DJ that played techno music, and a supermodern design. It seemed like a perfect place for me, even through I looked really scrubby and brought my own old and smelly towel.

01 September 2007

Chitzen Itza

Running on no sleep.............Eeek!

Since there are so many travel agencies in town that do day trips to Chitzen Itza, I thought it would be easier to sign up for one of those rather than to do it on my own. It cost me about $45, a lot considering that I´ve been spending less than $30-day (Although, I was really happy to hear that most people on teh same bus paid about $100 for the same tour). A shuttle picked me up from my hotel at 7AM and took me to a big bus where all the tourists from the big resorts met up. What was incredibly annoying was that after all the organization, we didn´t end up leaving until 9 AM.

The site at Chitzen Itza is absolutly amazing. The annoyance is that it is packed with tourists. When you arrive, there are about 30 buses in the parking lot and the place is mobbed with tour groups. Additionally, there are vendors everywhere approaching you and trying to sell you things. The highlight of the site is the main pyramid which is in the center of the site. It is actually a calendar, telling you what day of the year it is depending on which step of the pyramid the sun hits.

Another big highlight was the ball courts, where players played in order for the honor of being sacrificed. The loser had to hold the winner´s head! I met an American couple who were on their honeymoon and 2 guys from NY on my tour.

After leaving the site, we went to visit a cenote (sink hole). It seems as though the sinkhole is about 10 stories deep, and you are allowed to swim in the water at the bottom. This would have been an exellent idea had I not forgotten to bring my swimming trunks.

Of course, the best part of the cheesy day tours is that you get buffet lunches. At about 3PM (waay after hunger set in) we went to an all you can eat buffet with traditional Mexican dancing. I have to say that although it was completely fake and for tourists, I still enjoyed it.

Back to Cancun, unfortunately most of the people from my tour had left. However, 2 British girls had stayed behind, and we got dinner in the local part of town. I paid about $1.50 for a great dinner!

A bit of shopping, before I finally turned in....almost 40 hours without sleep.

Cancun

If you want to have the cheesiest vacation ever, go to Cancun. I guess this must be why so many Americans are here. There is every American chain you can think of (TGI Fridays, Hooters, Outback Steakhouse, etc) really cheesy clubs - that are super overpriced, and everyone wants to take your money off you. Its a bit annoying. I think this is a great example of what resort towns shouldn´t strive to be.

We arrived at our hotel in downtown Cancun (not on the beach, where most tourists stay) and took a bus to the beach. After my obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Cancun, we tried to hang out on the beach. Unfortunately, the beaches are currently in an atrocious state. Hurricaine Dean washed away most of the white sandy beaches and instead there are rocks, the water smells, and seaweed everywhere! Its so bad, that dump truck loads of sand are being sent to the beach to try to make it look ¨normal¨again.

Another side of Cancun that I did quite enjoy was the downtown part, where the locals live. Since this was the last night of our tour, we decided to go a little crazy. First, we had dinner at a local Jazz club where there was a 1-man act being performed, as well as jazz music into the evening. Afterwards, we headed over to a rock band, just down the street. The cover band was amazing, and they sung many modern songs in Spanish. Our last stop was a local gay club where we caught a drag show and danced into the night.

I finally got into my room at 5.30AM, which was perfect since my bus was leaving for Chitzen Itza at 7 in the morning. No time for sleep............

30 August 2007

Playa Del Carmen - Disney version of Mexico

Playa Del Carmen is filled with expensive stores, boutiques, chain restaurants, bars, and clubs. This generally isn't how I travel, but to be honest its kinda fun to spend a couple days in resort towns like this. Much more expensive than everywhere else we have been, and a lot more Americans than anywhere else I've seen.

Still, we made a good night of it. We went to an 'authentic' Mexican restaurant with plastic palm trees and neon lights. There was also a mariachi band playing music. Then, we hit one of the several beach clubs, The Blue Parrot, to watch a fire show and dance the night away. In some ways, its kinda cool that my vacation ends on the beach and partying. Later today, we head to Cancun, for more drinks and beach.

Change of itinerary / Full day of being wet

I guess Hurricaine Dean affected my trip a bit. We were suppossed to stay at a hotel in the Mexican town of Bacalar, but the hurricaine has cut water and electricity to this place. Additionally, the ruins at Tulum are also closed because of the hurricaine. So, instead, we spent a night in Playa Del Carmen, about an hour and a half from Cancun, where my tour officially ends.

We left early in the morning from Caye Caulker after a crazy night of drinking. So we were all hungover and maybe still drunk when we got into the water taxi. Of course, there was a huge rainstorm during the ride and the boats weren't covered, so we all got soaking wet and seasick. Then, we had to take a 10 hour bus ride to Playa. My clothes were soaking wet the entire time. I guess this is what you'd call a down part of the trip. All part of travelling!

It burns!!

So, the day we went snorkeling was not very good for my back. When you're in the water you don't realize that the sun is really hot and that it is really beating down on you. Because of this, I got burned really bad. Of course I wanted to even myself out, so the next day I lied on the beach and really really sunburned myself. I can barely walk, and it takes about 10 minutes to put pants on.

27 August 2007

Full day of Snorkling

Today, we went on a snorkiling tour, which took us to several different spots around the Cays to see some fish, wildlife, and also the Belize Reef - 2nd in the world only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Our first stop is a frequent stop to spot Manatees. We were incredibly lucky and were able to see 2! They are incredibly graceful animals (weighing anywhere from 500 to 1500 pounds) and also very curious and friendly. We were swimming close enough to them to reach out and touch them.

We then went to another part of the area, where we were able to see several reefs, coral, along with even more interesting ocean life. The fish seemed to not c are that we were there, and swam right up to us.

Our last stop was shark alley - which had a ton of sharks and stingrays. We were able to see both and was even able to pet a shark! They feel very delicate and almost like they can break.

A nice BBQ lunch, and the rest of the day spend relaxing by the beach. I wish I could always be on vacation!

Caye Caulker!

We left San Ignacio this morning to head towards the Belize Cays - islands which are just off the Belize coast in the Caribbean. We made a quick stop at the Belize Zoo - which originally started as a home for former movie-star animals. Today, it is really a sanctuary for animals which would have never survived if placed back in the wild. We saw several animals native to Belize including Jaguars, Pelicans, Toucans, and loud (very loud) Howler Monkeys.

We then arrived in Belize City - the largest city in Belize with a population of about 60,000. Here we caught a water taxi (read: large speedboat) to Caye Caulker, and island about 20 miles out from Belize City. The 45 minute trip was great, and showed off the awesome coast of Belize.

We arrived in Caye Caulker, an island with a population of about 1600. There are no cars. Everyone drives golf carts on the island. And there are 3 main dirt roads: front street, middle street, and back street (very creative, I know). Seafood restaurants everywhere, and great views of the water.

Our dinner this evening, grilled lobster on the beach. This included mashed potatos, rice and a rum and coke, all for US$12. We ended the night with some drinking and dancing.

Spelunking

I've been looking forward to caving for such a long time. We went to the famous "ATM" cave near San Ignacio, Belize. It is not only an awesome cave to explore, but it is a Mayan historical site. Several rituals were performed there, and the highlights include many priceless vases and even human remains scattered throughout the cave.

We began the day bright and early - and drove to a path where we had to do a 45 minute hike to a cave. We were told before-hand to wear sturdy, protected hiking shoes and that they would be fully soaked. We also had to wear socks to enter the sacred Mayan area. The hike wasn't bad at all, and it included wading into streams which were at about knee level. When we got closer to the cave, we were given our helmets and headlamps for the cave.

Then, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. We had to begin the trek by jumping into a 20ft deep pool of exteremely cold water. After sweating so much because of the temperature outside, you'd expect the water to feel great, but it was way too cold.

Then, we entered deep into the cave. It was awesome! We waded through water (the same exteremely cold water) anywhere from ankle level to upper chest level. We crawled through some tight spaces, and climbed up and down several rocks. I'm surprised I didn't get banged up anymore than I did.

We then arrived at the Mayan area where the artifacts were. This involved a climb of about 12 feet directly up. At the top, we had to remove our shoes and only wear socks (which were very wet) in order to protect the artifacts.

The main room was amazing. We saw several pots which were used for various Mayan rituals, and also human skulls and bones, including a full skeleton of a young woman. Some say that these humans were sacrificed in the caves, while others say that they were buried here. Either way, it was a really historical experience.

Tip-toeing around the artifacts was incredibly hard, as they were everywhere, and there wasn't really a set path. We then headed out and grabbed some lunch. By the time we got back to the hotel, we stank of sweat, mildew, and whatever other interesting things lived in the cave. I think my shoes may take days to dry. Oh well, worth the experience

25 August 2007

The Ruins at Tikal

Early start this morning, as we wanted to beat the heat (and the hordes of tourists) to enter the massive Mayan ruins at Tikal. These are probably the biggest excavated Mayan sites in the world. The best part is that it truly is in the middle of the Jungle. Throughout the site we saw monkeys, spiders, bugs, and were walking amongst the trees.

We were also able to climb some of the Temples. The 1st one we climbed was probably about 15 stories. Unfortunately, because the stairs are no longer in good shape, a wooden "staircase" is placed next to it instead. Here, tourists get to climb to the top of the temple.

The climb up wasn't that bad. It is a very rickety staircase, and very scary. Half way up, I heard this girl heading down shreik "Jonathan!" and it was someone I met staying in the hostel in Antigua! What a small world. She was too scared to really chat, but we were able to say hi and exchange contact info.

The top of the temple was also very scary. I guess we're so used to the potential lawsuits in the US, that everything is protected. You'd expected ledges that are 15 stories up to have guardrails on them. You'd also expect a ledge that was a bit wider than 2 feet. This was not the case in Tikal. Although the hieight got to me, the views were absolutely amazing. You could see other temples in the distance rising up from the trees.

We also spent a good hour and a half in the main square of Tikal. Being able to explore these ruins was great, but the heat was aweful. I don't think i've sweat this much since I've been to Egypt. I just looked at my arm, and my t-shirt and it was soaked completely through! Well worth it though, and we were done by noon! I don't know how the big tour buses come in and do it at the hottest part of the day. We were then off to Belize!

23 August 2007

Flores

Today we arrived at the small town of Flores, which literally means Flowers in Spanish. The town is located on a small peninsula and is similar to the French town of Mt. St. Michael. Its been a mostly laid back day as tomorrow we leave at 6AM for the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

I cannot wait, as these are suppossed to be the largest and most impressive of the Mayan ruins. Also, unlike the other ruins, these are located literally in the middle of the Jungle and there´s quite a bit of hiking.

Boat Tour and Livingston

Today we took a boat tour of the area, and headed out to the Garufina town of Livingston, on the Atlantic Coast. The river is amazing, as it is mostly undeveloped and you can really feel like you´re in the middle of the jungle. We were able to see Guatemala´s largest lake, where many locals take their vacation.

We also were able to stop by a local school. In this part of Guatemala, the locals only speak a regional Mayan dialect, so, the schools teach the children Spanish so that they can communicate with the rest of the country. Unfortunately, these local schools must live off of donations, as they do not recieve help from the local government.

Livingston is a very laid back town, very different from the rest of the country. The Garufina, are the black Guatemalans who originated from Nigeria, but were sent to this part of the world by th British to be slaves. You can find many of them up and down the Guatemalan, Honduran, and Nicaraguan coasts, they have a distinct language and culture from the rest of Latin America.

In the town, we tried a local dish called Tapado, which is essentially every type of seafood you can think of made into a stew. Mine included an entire fish, an entire crab, several prawns, and also plaintains. It was amazing! While dining, we were also treated to some local music.

Later that night, back at our island hotel, we witnessed one of the most amazing thunderstorms I´ve ever seen or heard. Our tiny cabins shook with every crash and the rain completely poured down on us. I guess thats what I get for coming during rainy season. Tomorrow we head to the small town of Flores.

22 August 2007

Back to Guatemala

We re-entered Guatemala today to head to Rio Dulce, which is a town near Guatemalas biggest lake. Our hotel is great. Not only is it on an island, it is an island. There{s a big pool and bar and all the rooms are wooden cabins on stilts in the water. My plan is to drink and swim for the rest of the day :)

Unwelcome Guest

This morning as I was about to jump in the shower, I saw a gigantic cockroach! Ugh. I hate bugs, and woke up my roomate to have him kill it. Ewww.

20 August 2007

Hurricaine Dean

It seems as though the Hurricane will hit somewhere along the path that I am headed. As of 5:40 on Monday, it looks as though one of the Mayan ruins that I will be seeing, Tulum, is at very high risk of being damaged.

I just really hope that this storm doesn´t devistate these towns, or ruins

The Ruins at Copan (Not to be confused with Copan Ruinas)

This morning, we took a guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Copan. They were fantastic! It was everything I had imagined on seeing the 1st of the many Mayan ruins I will be seeing on this trip. This particular site takes up about 21 square kilometeres.

Seeing the steps and teh amazing squares of the city were amazign. We were also able to see the famous ball courts - where Mayans played to be decapitated. If you won the game, you get the honor of being sacrifieced to the gods (whoa!).

The temperature was also becoming unbearibly hot, and it seems as this should be how the rest of the trip will be. We also headed to a museum on site, which had a replica of a discovered temple - including the original paint and decorations of what the Mayan site would look like.

Honduras!

I joined my tour in Antigua - and was the sole American on the trip. I´ve been very lucky becuase there´s only 8 of us, making it a much closer-knit group. There are 2 guys from Australia, an Irish couple and 3 girls from England. Everyone seems to be pretty laid back.

We said goodbye to Antigua to head to Honduras. About a 6 hour drive from Antigua is the town of Copan Ruinas on just past the Honduran border. On the way, we were able to see some amazing countryside. The mountains in Guatemala are everywhere. We also were able to see the slums of Guatemala City. Although I travel to poorer regions quite often, it still remains difficult to see them.

The town of Copan Ruinas is very cute, and is much smaller than Antigua. In fact, you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. Our first night in, we all decided to drive to the nearby hot springs. My group and I all got on the back of a pick-up truck and drove through dirt roads in the Honduran country-side about an hour outside of the village. The hot springs were great, really relaxing, but the highlight of the evening was the great BBQ we had while we were there. We headed back into town for a night of drinking.

19 August 2007

Climbing the Pacaya Volcano

It seems as though any place you go in the world, there´s always something to climb. Antigua is no exception, and I was able to climb the Pacaya Volcano. An early wake up call since the bus picked me up at 6AM from my hostel.

About an hour drive from the city, we got to the volcano. Another 2 hours of hiking and we reached the outside ring of the volcano. I´m surprised, and happy, that I was able to make it to the top (although incredibly tired, and smelly). The views were fantastic! There will be lots of pictures later. The weather also changed very rapidly up there - incredibly cold on the way up and very hot on the way down.

We went into the volcano and were able to stand very, very close to the lava. You actually walk on cooled lava. They would never permit such hikes in the US because of how close we were. In fact, one wrong move could be fatal.

It was sooo hot, my face started burning, and people shoes even melted! You were close enough to poke lava with a stick (which I quickly learned was a bad idea, because they immediatly catch on fire.

A quick stop again at the top for a snack, and we headed down to the bottom. All this before noon! Back to Antigua for some shopping and then meeting my tour group.

Antigua, Guatemala

Most tourists who come to Guatemala skip Guatemala City and head straight for the cute city of Antigua. (not the one in the Carribean, its in the middle of the mountains). The town is very cute, with cobblestone streets, great shops, restaurants, and architecture. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO site. Its also very touristy but not to the point of annoyance.

Antigua is surrounded by 3 volcanoes, making for outstanding views no matter where you are. In fact, every night there are lightning storms which light up the volcanos at night. My shuttle dropped me off at my hostel, The Black Cat Antigua - which I would highly recommend to anyone in the area. 5 People to a room, with a bathroom en suite and a very generous breakfast all for about $8. I was able to meet up with tourists from all over the world.

I wandered the city for a bit, then partied the night away with peopel from my hostel.

Arrival in Guatemala

Yay, my 36th Country ever! Early Thursday morning, I flew to Guatemala City. With a quick change of planes in Charlotte, I landed in Guatemala in the early afternoon. The landing itself was incredible. Guatemala is an incredibly mountanous country, and the airport is right in the middle of the city. As we were landing, we came incredibly close to buildings beneath us and skyscrapers around us. Also, all around, while still on the plane, I could see mountains.

I was a bit nervous arriving, because all the warnings seem to state that tourists are targeted the most from the airport en route to their hotel -- at gunpoint. There are stories from public buses, private shuttles, etc. So, I decided to pay for a personal van that woudl take me from the airport and take me to my 1st hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. Although it was very expensive by Guatemalan standards, the extra peace of mine was worth it when I saw somene holding up a sign with my name on it.

The Guatemala City airport is in the middle of a huge renovation and the airport itself is quite modern. They sold luxury goods and liquor as I arrived at the airport.

13 August 2007

Central America!

I thought my blogging days were over, but since I'm such an avid traveller, I've decided to continue using this blog for any trip I take in the future! Next stop: Central America.

I recently got a new job and was able to "negotiate" two and a half weeks between jobs to travel somewhere......anywhere, I just knew it had to be a place I'd never been before and somewhere cheap.

That's where Central America came in mind. I've never been here, always had a curiosity about the Mayans and heard that its dirt cheap. Plus, I had enough miles to fly down here for free (although it turns out there were no reward seats for anywhere near when I wanted to go).

What's the plan: Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. 4 Countries that I've never been to and will bring my total countries to 39!

17 September 2006

Last Day of my Adventure

Well, its fınally here. These past 2 months have been AMAZING, but now ıts tıme to head home. Im actually really lookıng forward to ıt, ıve been a bıt homesıck.

I now have to joın the real world, fınd a job, and work wıth 2 weeks of vacatıon a year :(

Well thıs trıp has gotten me thınkıng about movıng to London permanently. They speak englısh, they get more vacatıon, the Brıtısh Pound ıs a lot easıer to pay bıllls and loans wıth, and a lot easıer to travel on. Plus you can get cheap aırfares to almost anywhere from london.

Quıck stop ın Parıs tomorrow, then Ill be ın NYC!!!

16 September 2006

Back ın İstanbul

Last nıght İ took an overnıght bus from Sofıa to Istanbul. The bus was very, very full but surprısıngly comfortable. The only horrıble part was that customs took about 2 hours (agaın). No one really explaıns anythıng so I always just try to follow the crowd.

So I wıll be back ın NYC on Monday afternoon. For my last 2 nıghts I booked myself ınto a really nıce hotel. Its somethıng I lıke to do after really long trips.

Then ıts tıme to fınd a job :(

Partyıng ın Sofıa

Sofıa has great nıghtlıfe. There are clubs, and bars on every corner ıt seems. I was able to round up a group of people from the hostel and we went to the Thursday nıght hotspot. I cant spell ıt but apparently ıt ıs Bulgarıan for lıpstıck.

I have been to lots of Eastern European countrıes, but Bulgaria seems to be an exceptıon where the populatıon really takes care of themselves and they all are really gorgeous. Plus, the shoppıng ıs amazıng ın Sofıa and people really deck themselves out ın hıgh qualıty goods.

14 September 2006

I need a place to stay!!!

Hey everyone,

So, I am heading back to the States on Monday, September 18. Unfortunately, I sublet my apartment until the end of the month, so for 2 weeks I will be homeless. That's where you come in! If you can give me a couple nights to crash on your couch, or in your bed ;) I will be very grateful.

I have been backpacking so I don't take up much room, I dont have much stuff, and I'm neat, quiet, and will stay out of hte way in the mornings.

Sofia, Bulgaria

I have arrived in the capital of Bulgaria: Sofia. It's a very typical looking Eastern European city and everyone here is really friendly.

I'm staying in a really cool hostel, meeting lots of people and I just took a long walking tour of the city. I love going to cities that used to be communist, it's fun to see how they've embraced capitalism. Bulgaria is really diverse and today we saw a synagogue, a mosque, and a few cathedrals.

Tomorrow back to Istanbul!

Valiko-Tornovo

So, instead of going straight to Sofia, some people from my hostel told me of a small town that I should stop by in in the center of the country near the mountains.

It was a cute town with an awesome fortress. Nice place to chill for a couple days