Guatemala

Flores, is a town in Peten, Guatemala. The town is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, connected to land by a causeway, it was a beautiful setting, and we stayed in accomodation right on the lake, the best thing was the breeze off the lake – it was the coolest we’d felt in a few weeks….

A view of the lake from Flored
A view of the lake from Flores
View of the lake at sunset
View of the lake at sunset

The food was great too, it had some Mexican influences, but it just tasted better in my opinion anyway- for breakfast we had huevos rancheros, and it came with fried plantains, it was delicious, I also had a bowl of wholemeal oats made with coconut milk, also delicious…

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The following day, we’d booked a tour to Tikal, the ruins of an ancient city found in a rain forest in Northern Guatemala, archaeologist estimate that the Maya settled in the area now known as Tikal in around 900 BC. We’d booked a sunrise tour, so we got picked up at 3am, which gave us enough time to get to the park, climb the highest ruin – Tikal Temple IV before dawn broke – however mine and Tom’s luck must have ran dry that particular day, as it was misty, so we never saw the sunrise, however it was a great time to be there, away from the hoard of crowds, and at a time when the rain forest was just beginning to wake up, hearing the birds chirp their dawn chorus, see the leave cutter ants carrying on their duties come light or dark, and hearing the howler monkey’s screech to protect their territory – it was spectacular.

View from Tikal temple IV
View from Tikal temple IV
Tikal temple
Tikal temple
Tikal
Tikal

Our tour guide was amazing too, spoke impeccable English, and was a rain forest biodiversity guide for a living, working with the national geographic and the TV show survivor. Whilst showing us the ruins and its history, he talked us through the biodiversity of the rain forest and the animals and creatures that live in it.

Rainforest canopy
Rainforest canopy

When we first arrived me and tom had commented on the smell – it smelt like chicken soup, our guide, later informed us that the smell only occurs once a year, when the flowers from the Sequoia tree falls.  He showed us wild celantro, which the Mayan’s used in their cooking, due to its vast presence; showed us a termites nest, where he told us to grab a few and eat them, telling us “they taste like carrots” – he wasn’t wrong.

Termite nest
Termite nest – apologies out of focus

Next on the list was a tarantula, our tour guide, went into the forest and came out holding one, so of course me and Tom both held it (when in Rome), it was really soft and gentle, not what you’d expect… however it was only a baby.

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Tom holding it...
Tom holding it…

After three days in Flores, we jumped on an overnight bus from Flores to Guatemala city, then a taxi from Guatemala city to Antigua. Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala, famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture, as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches.

Streets of Antigua surrounded by volcanoes
Streets of Antigua surrounded by volcanoes
Antigua famous arch
Antigua’s famous arch

On the two days we were there we went to Pacaya – a volcano which is still active, but hasn’t errupted since 2010

View of the other surrounding volcanoes half way up the hike
View of the other surrounding volcanoes half way up the hike
Pacaya - Volcano
Pacaya – Volcano

Guatamela has 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands… We walked up halfway to where the lava had once flowed, despite it last errupting in 2010 heat was still admitting from it – our guide pulled out a bag of marshmellows and we toasted them on the lava rocks – not something you do everyday!

Toasting marshmellows
Toasting marshmellows
After toasting
After toasting
In front of the lava
In front of the lava

Guatemala, also has numerous cocoa plantations, although we didn’t go out to one of the plantations, we did go to the Choco Museo, and take part in a two hour workshop, which went through the history of chocolate and how it was deeply routed in Mayan culture, before being shipped off and altered by the Spanish colonial rulers. We also went through the process, how the beans are cultivated for making chocolate. With our aprons on, we set about making our own chocolate, roasting the beans, skinning them, crushing them into nips and then grinding them to make a paste, it was really good fun and our teacher Edwin was brilliant. We made chocolate tea, as well as traditional Mayan hot chocolate – it was quite literally from bean to cup, and a great experience…

After being shown the technique, we were each given some melted chocolate and various molds, and set about making our own chocolate, using flavours such as, chili, salt, ginger, orange, coconut, macadamia etc. After leaving them in the fridge for 45 minutes they were packaged up and given back to us – they looked impressive – me and Tom were really pleased with the outcomes, and they tasted delicious – only downside was we didn’t have a fridge back at our hostel, so we had to eat them pretty quick.

Edwin
Edwin doing his thing
The different flavours to add to our chocolate
The different flavours to add to our chocolate
The moulds
The moulds
The fnisihed product
The fnisihed product

After three days in Antigua we headed to Lake Atitlan, a beautiful volcanic lake in the Western Highlands, ringed by small quaint towns.

Lake atitlan - view from San Marcos La Laguna
Lake atitlan – view from San Marcos La Laguna

Arriving at Panajachel (the main port) we got a boat to take us to San Marcos La Laguna, as Valerie had recommended a hotel – it didn’t disappoint, the hotel was set in these spectacular tropical gardens, teaming with hummingbirds, blue dragonfly’s and butterflies, it was lovely to relax in the cooler climate, because we were at altitude – pure bliss. We opted for the budget accomodation $8 a night, wow, it was like 4-star accomodation, just lovely… The town itself, reminded us of Varkala in India, really chilled out,  geared towards yoga and meditation, with quaint paths leading to hippy’esq cafes and shops.

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One of my favourite pictures, a lady carrying her peaches ready to sell to passing trade

The food was great, we ate a curry one night – our first curry in 5-months, very satisfying for the taste buds… One morning we headed out to breakfast and I was intrigued as to what one of the waiters was eating at the spot we’d picked to eat – he told me it was potato croquettes – but they looked more like potato cakes, anyway he said they were just for staff usually, but he’d see if they might be able to knock me some up. Anyway they did, it was delcious, served with salad, mashed avocado and a salsa…

Guatemalan cusine
Guatemalan cusine

Next to our hotel was a nature reserve, which had maintained trails to high vistas, so you could look over the lake and see the trio of volcanoes, on hiking we bumped into a guy, Tim from Texas who was staying at our hotel, we swapped stories and then we all headed to the trampolin, a wooden platform, high up, allowing you to jump into the lake, Tom was first up, followed by Tim, them me – after jumping, about a quarter way down, you got that “ah shit” moment – anyway it was good fun, the lake was lovely to swim in, so refreshing… After a few beers back at the hotel we all headed out to eat – a comforting Pizza and a bottle of Chilean red wine.

 The next day we got up early, and jumped on a boat to the neighbouring town on the lake, called San Pedro – a notorious party town – it was much more built up than quaint San Marcos, however had a lot more going for it! After checking into some budget accommodation Tim had recommended, we jumped on a Tuc-Tuc up to the base of San Pedro Volcano – on paying the entrance fee, you have the option of getting a guide to accompany you in with the price – we opted for one, although we instantly regretted it, Jose, was in a mad rush to get back for football for 3pm, we started the walk at 11.50am and the walk takes on average 3-4 hours. With that in mind, he was trying to put us off walking to the top, saying it’s possible etc, saying it is better to walk for 30 minutes to the first viewing platform. Anyway after much debate, him saying that “chica (as in me) isn’t going to make it” and us telling him “we didn’t need him, he could go back down, as we are going to walk to the top regardless” he phoned the office to see if this was possible, however they said it wasn’t, so low and behold we were stuck with him. After a few conversations on his phone, he managed to postpone the football to 4pm, which you could tell he was happy about, as his whole attitude and persona changed. He also managed to rope Tom into playing, as well. Regardless of the football time change, he still frogmarched us up a volcano 3,020 metres above sea level in the record time of two hours. Determined to prove him wrong, that I could make it to the top, I carried on at his pace.The top was spectacular – it was a little hazy – but the climb was worth the vista and that feel of achievement….

The view from the top of San Pedro Volcano and Lake Atitlan
The view from the top of San Pedro Volcano and Lake Atitlan

After racing back down – no exaggeration, Jose, was practically running down, after an hour, to my relief we got back to base,  as Tom was playing football, all three of us jumped into a waiting Tuc-Tuc which took us to the 5-aside pitch… It was a game of tour guides vs the Policia – Tom was given his shirt and took his position on the pitch – now Jose, failed to mentioned that his team had no substitutes and he was only playing in net – Tom after climbing a volcano non stop for three hours then had to play football for 1 hour, with no water to hand, as they’d ran out and only a 5 minute half time – he was shattered, but still managed to score four times…

Tom playing for the tour guides
Tom playing for the tour guides

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After a carb loaded dinner to restore our depleted energy levels, we hit the hay early and slept the clock round. Running a few errands the next morning, oh and finding a crab lurking around in our room, we left San Pedro and got a shuttle back to Antiqua, where we stayed ready for an early 4am pick up for our bus to Nicaragua.

The crab
The crab

Back in Mexico and onwards to Guatemala

Arriving back in Mexico from Cuba, we got on a bus and headed south to Playa del Carmen – a touristy, concrete place on the Yucatan peninsula, a place we wanted to get away from as quickly as possible. After staying a night, we got on a ferry to Cozumel, an island 30 minutes of Mexico, we were told it was less touristy, and the snorkeling was good as the waters were so clear.

We’d booked a hostel (renown for divers), which was right on the beach, to the North of the island where the white sandy beaches were, it was a great spot, and was good to have access to a kitchen again to make our own meals, as eating three meals out a day was becoming a bit monotonous.

The heat was unbearable, it was 32 degrees, and 64% humidity, me and tom had never felt anything like it, just sitting down was an effort – the room had no AC so we slept with the fan, about an inch from our face, and that still didn’t do the trick.

The beaches on the peninsula of Mexico and Cozumel were suffering from a huge bout of seaweed, large amounts washed up on the beach, making the most prettiest of white beaches look less tropical, more Mediterranean – apparently it normally occurs February to April, but something was happening in the water to prolong its stay!!!

Beaches around Cozumel
Beaches around Cozumel

On the island, we rented a scooter and rode round the island to find some of the best spots to snorkel. The snorkeling was amazing, the reef was so colourful and breathtaking I could’ve stayed under the water for ages just watching the tropical fish following out their day-to-day routine. The name of the beach was Sky reef, it was by far the best on the island, just off shore, although there was also tropical fish to be seen right on the shore at our hostel.

Leaving Cozumel, we had a full day of transport planned out, as we wanted to get away from the touristy Cancun peninsula and move onto Guatemala. After getting a ferry to the Mexican mainland, we then jumped on a bus to take us south to Tulum, where we spent the day taking in the ruins – however it was so hot, we were quite literally dancing from shade to shade and in the end had to take shelter from the unbearable sun on the beach with the ocean breeze and shade of a rock to make us feel human again. We hung around Tulum until our bus for Belize was ready to board at 00.11am – it was a long wait…

Tulum ruins
Tulum ruins
Tulum ruins
Tulum ruins
Around the site we must have seen around ten igunanas
Around the site we must have seen around ten igunanas

After 3 hours on the bus, we were woken when we got to the Mexican border – it was a hairy experience, we were told to get out of the bus and in the dark, in the middle of nowhere we formed a queue while officials checked our passports with torches, we were then individually led into a room, where an official asked us to pay $35 each, well we had no money, after asking for official documentation to show the we owed the exit fee he just kept saying no, no, then the official looked at us and said ‘’you will have to wait here until 8am, for when the ATM/bank opens’’ – well if we’d stayed we’d have missed the bus, and there was definitely no ATM in the vicinity, i’ll stress we were in the middle of nowhere. He then said, “you’ll have to ask someone on the bus for money, otherwise you’re staying here.” Luckily there was a guy who had a wad of dollars, who kindly paid for us, until we paid him back in on arriving in Belize – thank god he was there, as we would’ve still been at the border!! The border official just tossed the money in a top drawer, stamped our passports and that was it – crazy thing when we got back on the bus, people had been charged different amounts – it seems you are at an unfair disadvantage at night, where the border officials get you by the short and curly, and they can try and run whatever scam they want on you – I personally wont be crossing that border alone, or at night again!

We got our stamp to enter Belize and on arrival, we headed to buy our tickets for our shuttle from Belize to Flores, Guatemala – yes you guessed it another border crossing. The uproar of the Mexican border hassle got us talking to a Guatemalan, Valerie – she too was going to Flores, so she took us under her wing and helped us get there – our first mission was to fill our ravenous bellies – it’s a shame, we weren’t staying in Belize as the people were really friendly, they had this Caribbean/Creole laid back accent going on, and because it was originally part of the British Empire, they typically speak English. Finding a cafe we ordered up a sandwich and a Jonny cake – now the sandwich was good but the Jonny cake wow – it was delicious , a cornmeal flat bread, fried in coconut oil and stuffed with a black bean paste, stocked up on water we awaited our shuttle.

The famous Jonny Cake
The famous Jonny Cake

The shuttle arrived, it was basically a transit van and it was packed to the rafters with people, we were quite literally squeezed in, it was hot and we were bothered… After two hours of taking in the countryside we hit the border, we paid our exit fee and then walked across from Belize into Guatemala… another two hours later we arrived in Flores.

Cuba – what a place..

Having previously written off Cuba, purely because the flights were too expensive and the internet too limited to cope with our work demands… on staying with Daphne in Mexico City, she managed to twist our arm, saying, you’ve got to go sooner, rather than later, as the place is changing – especially since the US is opening an embassy and outsiders are talking of fast change within Cuba. With this, we booked flights to allow a flying visit, and here we are now, and I write this on a plane back from Cuba having spent five glorious days there.

We spent what felt like forever on transfers – leaving Oaxaca, flying back to Mexico City, to pick up a connecting flight to Cancun, an overnight stop in Cancun, which involved us hiring a car, as it worked out cheaper than a taxi from the airport, then an early flight the next day from Cancun to Cuba, we eventually arrived in the Caribbean Island.

From the air we got a better view of Cuba and first impressions were that it’s a big Island, approximately the same size as England. We therefore decided to focus our trip around the capital of Havana, rather than rushing around… as it turns out, rushing around isn’t really possible in Cuba anyway, unless you can afford a hire car at a whopping $90 a day. Upon landing our first task was to change up some of our currency into CuC’s, one of two Cuban currencies in circulation (Peso being the other, USD is now worthless even on the black market). There to help us with this first task was a happy chappy going by the name of Charlie, well that was his English name. Charlie also happened to own a 1957 Opel, made in Germany, and he offered to taxi us to Old Havana where we had booked a stay through Daphne’s friend, in a traditional Casa.

The old cars are obviously one of the most recognisable icons of Cuba and we were pleased to find out that most of the cars on the roads still date back to the 1950’s, with a few newer Lada’s driving about, courtesy of the USSR. Photography wise, the crumbling buildings in Havana along with the hordes of vibrantly painted 1950’s Cadillac’s, are a sight like no where else.

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In front of the taxi lineup
In front of the taxi lineup

Casa’s are traditional Cuban housing, which in the last few years have become legally available places to stay for foreigners. This is Cuba’s version of Airbnb, however booking one prior to arrival will give you your first taste of how far behind Cuba is on this kind of thing, it’s tough and even when you think you have one booked, upon arrival they are often fully booked. ‘Ah, Cuba’ is a common expression here. Thankfully, we’d been promised a luxury Casa by Daphne’s friend Rocia and when we got there it didn’t disappoint; the interior looked like it hadn’t changed in a 100 years in a shabby chic kind of way and the only downside was the showers. The showers weren’t just cold like most showers in Central America, the water barely trickled out. We later realised that a lot of other Casa’s that surrounded ours don’t actually have there own water supply at all. Some less fortunate Cuban’s have to haul buckets of water from street pumps into their homes.

Our Casa - Casa Mercy
Our Casa – Casa Mercy

Once we had moved in and met our welcoming host, Mercy, we headed out to one of the restaurants in Old Havana, which Rocia had recommended. On the way, as we walked the streets of Havana we were asking ourselves why there weren’t many restaurants. Having booked our flights last minute and without doing a whole lot of research on the current state of play in Cuba, we quickly realised that private business ownership is still heavily regulated and this does make finding a place to eat a tough task! This is changing quickly and not so long ago, the tourist option would have been eating at your hotel.

We got settled into a Tapas bar which Earnest Hemingway had frequented and almost immediately became acquainted with three Cuban’s; Alex (1), Alex (2) and the one that didn’t speak much as he was too hung over from the night before, they had just graduated from University. Several daiquiris, mojitos – of course made with Havana Club rum, and national beers later, we’d been questioned by Alex about the Royal’s, British Wars and the internet, plus a whole lot more. In exchange, we managed to get an insight into a few Cuban opinions on politics, their way of life and how their socialist system works. It turns out government owned hotels and restaurants profits go into a fund for building restoration, however judging by the state of a lot of buildings which are quite literally falling down, this is not enough to keep Havana standing.

Feast at the tapas bar
Feast at the tapas bar
Rude not to have a cuban  cigarillo and Mojito
Rude not to have a cuban cigarillo and Mojito

Alex (1) told us that he understands why there are changes coming and that slow change is good, because for socialism to succeed, it has to work, while the more intoxicated Alex (2) summarised his opinion by yelling “F@CK CASTRO!”… leaving Alex (1) looking worried and looking over his shoulder. To finish the night off, we were taken to Floridita, which is the famous haunt Cuban’s go, to cut some serious Salsa shapes. We got a crash course from Alex (2) on how to do the basics and woke up with sore heads ready for our tour the next day at 9:30.

Tom being taught to Salsa by the Alex's
Tom being taught to Salsa by the Alex’s

Our tour with Rocia was excellent. She walked us around all the significant old areas of Havana, from market squares, colonial rulers accommodation (which had wooden roads to dampen the noise of horse drawn carts outside so they could get a good night’s sleep), to the most significant buildings and hotels that were occupied and used during the revolution. We got a feel for Cuban day to day living by riding in Cuban taxi’s, which only run one way down a single street and are shared by about 6 other Cuban’s, visiting bodegas where Cuban’s pick up their rations and we took a look around a mall of foreign imports. A combination of taxation and import costs, makes it literally impossible for any normal Cuban to pick up the most basic of white goods (basic microwaves are $200+). We also discussed politics and the outside world with Rocia, a topic all Cuban’s are understandably keen to talk with foreigners about, and her stance was that while Cuba has big problems and there system has not worked as intended (the US did shoulder some of the blame for this!), the sense of togetherness and caring for everyone is what makes the place special. There was a contradiction in that a lot people we spoke to who told us they were pro Castro, however there was a black market for pretty much everything and even those who believed strongly in the socialist model, operated within this black market to subsidise what they received from the state. Understandable though considering the poor living conditions a lot of Cuban’s endure! We got a taste of the black market as we went on our cigar tour of one of the government factories. As we finished the tour our guide, a 40 year old woman who smoked a cigar all the while, locked the door to the cloakroom and sold us a few cigars at a knock-down price!

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Beautiful building
Beautiful building
Taking a ride in a taxi (front seat bench)
Taking a ride in a taxi (front seat bench)

We had planned to get a hire car with Rocia and her boyfriend and head in-land to ride on one of the trains that goes through a sugar plantation, however because of the price, we had to postpone! So instead we headed to the nearest beach on the public bus. Upon arrival we weren’t disappointed. The water was as aqua and the sand as white, as any beach you see on a picture postcard. As the day wore on more and more Cuban’s arrived on the beach to the point where there must have been 1’000’s of people and almost every man and woman and were drinking rum. To top it off, as we headed back to the bus stop on our way home, we spotted a young Cuban man washing the sand off his feet with a bottle of Havana Club rum, before getting into his 1950’s car. Sadly we couldn’t grab the camera quickly enough!

Just heaven!!
Just heaven!!
White sands - pure bliss...
White sands – pure bliss…

As we left Cuba after just 5 days we had a lot of unanswered questions and we’d certainly love to return for a longer trip. We both agreed this is one of the most interesting but also beautiful and friendly countries in the world.

 

Oaxaca

Oaxaca, pronounced Wah-hac-a, is a state in southern Mexico known for its indigenous cultures its rich Moles – mole is a traditional sauce made with a lot of different ingredients, and Oaxaca boasts seven different types of mole. We stayed in the heart of the old town, with brightly painted colonial buildings, cobbled narrow streets and the stunning baroque Catedral de Oaxaca taking centre stage, it was beautiful – great for taking pictures…

Oaxaca vendors selling handmade embroided blouses
Oaxaca vendors selling handmade embroided blouses

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Artisan cafe - Oaxaca
Artisan cafe – Oaxaca
When in Mexico
When in Mexico
Margerita
Margerita

During our stay, we visited a number of sites within the region, these included: Hierve el Agua – A series of small natural pools that have been excavated to form an “amphitheater”, from which you can admire the amazing scenery, whilst taking a dunk in the cool waters. Due to the variety and high concentrations of mineral salts, a pre hispanic irrigation system and various waterfalls that fell from the pool have been petrified.

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Mitla. Its name in Nahuatl means “Place of the Dead”, while the Zapotecs called it lyobaa, meaning “Place of burials” Mitla was a place of residence for the Zapotec priestly class. It was inhabited from the classic period of Monte Albán (100 to 650 AD) , and reached its peak in the post-classical period (750 to 1521 AD). The layout of the city was probably planned with structures grouped in five sets, currently called the Columns, the Church, the Stream, the Adobes and the South. Santa María El Tule.

Giant cactus' with Milta in the background
Giant cactus’ with Milta in the background
Tom standing at the entrance of Milta
Tom standing at the entrance of Milta
Amazing cactus'
Amazing cactus’

Among the natural beauties of this region is the huge, ahuehuete cypress called “El Árbol del Tule”. The tree is a wonderful example of Oaxacan flora, 40 meters high with a diameter of 52.58 meters, it weighs around 509 tons and is approximately 2000 years old.

Bigger than any of the redwoods we'd seen (in circumference)
Bigger than any of the redwoods we’d seen (in circumference)
Tree measurements
Tree measurements

Teotitlán del Valle. This town is where woolen rugs are made on domestic looms. The artisans here use natural dyes such as indigo, moss and grana cochinilla. We visited an artisan’s house to see the process of making a rug, it was fascinating, the time and effort that goes into making one – it was a shame we couldn’t bring one home with us…

Rugs hung up outside - the colours don't show
Rugs hung up outside – the colours don’t show

Finally we visited a Mezkal Factory. Perhaps the most famous drink to come out of Mexico is one made from the agave plant: tequila. But there’s another drink derived from the agave, one less known but just as potent: Mezcal. And lately, it is moving on up among the hip and the chic, not only in Mexico but also abroad. We visited the distillery, where they showed us the processes, and how the roots are burnt and then fermented, and then we were giving the chance to sample a number of differently aged Mezcals…. they even had the worm floating in there to flavour the drink (something that tequilas don’t have anymore). We ended up buying a bottle of their 9 year aged, as that was pleasant on the taste buds – however we’re yet to sample it at home!

Selection of Mezcal
Selection of Mezcal
You can see floating in the far right bottle
You can see floating in the far right bottle

Goodbye U.S of A…hello Mec-hi-co

Arriving in Mexico city, we got a taxi and headed to the place we were staying at in Roma Notre, a trendy area with nice bars and restaurants in. The first thing we noticed was the sheer volume of Policia, pretty much on every road and every corner – I guess it once was the drug capital of the world, anyway we arrived safe and sound at our accommodation.

Daphne who we were staying with recommended a place for breakfast, she informed us that Mexico City has quite a french influence, especially within cooking, giving a french/mexico infusion. Walking around, it felt like we were in Madrid, really cosmopolitan, wonderful old buildings and plazas – it didn’t feel like the Mexico City the newspapers had created in my mind.

Beautiful building we stumbled across
Beautiful building we stumbled across
The street where we were staying
The street where we were staying
Old car in the street
Old car in the street
Beautiful facade to a building
Beautiful facade to a building

 

Building up close
Building up close

 

Walking through Alameda Central, a park downtown that is adjacent to the Palacio de Bellas Artes; it is the oldest public park in the city; we headed to the museum of Anthropology, an amazing museum, which showcased all the history of Mexico, how it came to be, the different inhabitants, Mayas, Olmecas, Aztecs etc and their varying patterns which represented their unique tribes.

Waterfall pillar that made up the roof at the museum
Waterfall pillar that made up the roof at the museum
Within the Anthropology grounds
Within the Anthropology grounds

On leaving the museum, we saw some dancers, who all climbed this huge pole, and then wrapped some rope around the top of the pole, which was attached to them, they then hung down, and started spinning, round and round the pole, whilst playing their instruments, before completing on the ground – it made us dizzy just watching it!

Traditional dance
Traditional dance

That night we headed to an indoor food market called Mercado 9 (if you’ve ever been to Madrid, it’s a bit like St Miguel market), where you get a taster of what Mexico has to offer, we grabbed a few Cervaza’s and got our taste buds flowing, tasting tostados, pickled, sauteed mushrooms, tamales, empinadas, churros with Mexican chocolate and a chirozo sandwich – was all delicious.

On our final day we ambled up Paseo de la Reforma (a grand street that runs through the centre of Mexico City) and sucked up the architecture and history, visiting; The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) which is considered the most important cultural centre in Mexico City as well as the rest of the country of Mexico; The Zocalo – which is the main square, and one of the largest city squares in the world. It is bordered by the Cathedral, the National Palace and the Federal District buildings and the Old Portal de Mercaderes.

The National Palace
The National Palace

 

Viva Las Vegas

The drive to Las Vegas was crazy, firstly it took a lot longer than expected, as lots of people were travelling there for Independence Day celebrations, and secondly ‘the heat’ my god, you opened the window and it was like someone was wafting a hairdryer in your face – it was 45C – it’s a wonder our little car coped.

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Arriving in one piece we checked into our hotel and I showed Tom the sites and bright lights of Vegas.

Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace
The bright lights of Vegas
The bright lights of Vegas

Fourth of July celebrations consisted of hanging out round the pool party at the MGM Grand, sipping frozen margaritas. At night we headed to the strip to watch the fireworks go off at Caesars Palace – wow what a show, easily the best fireworks finale I’ve ever seen.

4th of July fireworks
4th of July fireworks

We decided to stay on in Vegas for a couple of day, purely because the hotels were really cheap, owing to it being in the heat of summer and the intense heat putting holidaymakers off.  One night we stayed at Trump International, a five star, and we managed to persuade the hotelier to bump us up to a room which had a view of the strip.

The gold tower - Trump towers
The gold tower – Trump towers
View of the strip from our  room
View of the strip from our room

On our last day in Vegas we took the 4 hour drive to the Grand Canyon, although I’ve been before, it’s well worth another trip, and this time I got to see if from the South Rim – such an amazing canyon. Whilst there we stayed to listen to a ranger talk about the geology behind this great formation, it was really interesting, and we wished we done a few more at the other national parks we frequented.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

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Driving back we stopped at the Hoover Dam – so much concrete! In the picture you can see a furious storm brewing. This storm hit us whilst driving back to the hotel, subsequently I got a flash flood warning on my phone, both thinking, ‘nah Vegas can’t flood’, we carried on and pretty much drove into the tail of the flash flood. Cars stranded, fire engines whizzing passed – it was intense. Anyway we made it back in one piece  – the storm even made the headlines…..

Into the storm we go
Into the storm we go

Making our way back to L.A to pick up our flight to Mexico, we drove to Lake Isabella, Tom had visited before, however when we got there the lake had all dried up, owing to the drought that California is currently experiencing – it was sad to see. We found a place to camp overnight and pitched up, heading to the nearest brewery to sample some of the local beer.

The open road on our way from Nevada to California
The open road on our way from Nevada to California
Joshua Trees on our way from Nevada to California
Joshua Trees on our way from Nevada to California
We hit a sandstorm on our desert drive
We hit a sandstorm on our desert drive

From Lake Isabella, we stopped at Bakersfield for the night (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) and then carried on to Santa Monica where we stayed the night before our flight. If I was to live in L.A, I would definately live in Santa Monica, regardless of it being part of L.As giant urban sprawl, it felt quaint and had a town-like feel to the place. We hit the beach as there was a ‘Twilight festival’ on – live music on the pier, so we took our picnic blanket and snacks and a few beers and listened to the performances whilst soaking up atmosphere.

View from our spot at 'The Twilight Festival'
View from our spot at ‘The Twilight Festival’
View from our spot at 'The Twilight Festival'
View from our spot at ‘The Twilight Festival’