Archive for the 'travel' Category

Back from the Bahamas

I just returned from a much-needed week in the Bahamas.  I had never been to the Bahamas and haven’t really seen much of the Caribbean.  Unlike my trip to Guatemala, I didn’t keep a trip journal, since it was just a beach trip.  But taking a cue from my friend Swati, who had a well organized breakdown of her trip to St. Maarten, I thought I’d share some tips.

Accommodation – We stayed at the Sheraton in Nassau, which was only $60 a night if you used 4,000 Starwood points per night.  The resort also charged $15 a person extra, so the total cost was $90 + 4,000 points + taxes (about 12%) per night.  They have a nice pool, a great beach, and you can use the pool and beach at the nearby Crystal Palace Casino and Resort (they are interconnected).  By comparison,  The Atlantis was about $499 a night, and The Cove was about $710 a night.  The Sheraton was hit and miss – the food/restaurants overcharged and underdelivered, and the maid service was spotty at best, but for less than $100 a night, I thought it was a great value.  The GM, Mr. D’Angelo, was great, and definitely addressed our concerns when we raised them.

Transportation.  During the day, there are frequent buses which can take you downtown (shops, bars and restaurants) and to Paradise Island (where Atlantis is).  At night, you’re stuck taking cabs.  Cabs to Atlantis (or almost anywhere else) were $20.  You can get a moped for about $50 a day downtown.

Food. Food on the resort was subpar and overpriced. We found it was better to venture out.

The restuarants in Atlantis were great, especially Cafe Martinique (perhaps one of the best restaurants I’ve been to).  Terrific service.

The first night, we checked out Compass Point (food was ok – very overpriced).

We also went to Dune, a restaurant in the One and Only Resort.  The grounds were beautiful but the food was awful.  Both of our meals were overcooked and had to be sent back.  The other patrons and I were literally laughing about how bad our meal was.  The service was unimpressive.

Downtown Athena Cafe had the best Gyro I’ve ever had anywhere.  Great service too.

Finally, we checked out the Fish Fry.  I thought the food was great, but it was a bit shady at night.

Other Stuff.  We did the water park in Atlantis ($120pp), did some jet skiing ($100 for 45 min), some  gambling in the Crystal Palace Casino and Atlantis Casino and some drinking and shopping downtown.  The aquarium in Atlantis was very cool.  The only club worth going to is Aura, in Atlantis, which is open Wednesday through Saturday.

Look Into The Air

Finally, I am done with my Guatemala blogging! Interesting post script – I was watching Nova last night and they had a special on Mayan hieroglyphs, which was fascinating. You can watch the entire special here. When we were in Tikal, the guides there said that the language had been lost, but the show explained that they had deciphered many of Mayan hieroglyphics, if not completely broken the code. It reminded me of this picture I took (at left). Recent scholars have deciphered much of the code, and generally stelae like the one pictured at left was a historical account of kings and their family. Anyway, if you get a chance to go to Guatemala, take as many pictures of the glyphs as you can! I didn’t take as many as I would have liked and now I regret it.

Now, on to other things. I’ve been going to a lot of concerts lately. First, I saw Jose Gonzales at the Highline Ballroom. The line went from one end of 11th avenue to the other (11th is a long block)! We managed to get in and score a table with a great view. Here are some pictures I took from the event.

The concert was great. He played a lot of his new stuff, including one of my favorites off his new album, Cycling Trivialities. Have a listen.

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This man has unbelievable control over the guitar – it is practically an extension of him when he plays.

More recently, we went to the Explosions in the Sky concert. It was raw and awesome. They proved that they are not a post rock band, they are a rock band. A friend of a friend took some terrific pictures of the concert here. They played a lot of great songs, but not my favorite (and my friend’s) song, Your Hand In Mine. Check it out.

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It was a straight set with no encore. Being entirely instrumental, many worry that the band will be boring, but I can tell you that fear is unjustified. The music was hypnotic, and EITS are experts at building their music and the crowd into a frenzied crescendo. It was blisteringly loud – at points I could have used earplugs. My friends joke that setting the radio to a moderate volume is a sign of old age.

On that point, I am turning thirty in 9 days. Christ.

Finally, I put together a little mixtape of some songs I’ve been enjoying lately. If you want to, you can check it out here. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Guatemala, Days 8-9 – Monterrico, Guatemala City

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. These are days 8-9 of my 9 day account.

We catch a morning bus to Monterrico with a true hippie. He’s got dreads and everything, a vegan (of course) and he is out there to save the world. Driving out to the coast highlights the marked difference between the steep highlands and the incredibly flat lowlands. It’s the first time I’ve seen flat land in a while, and I am loving it.

At one point we reach a river that we have to cross. Nearby is a brand new bridge, but we end up taking this bizarre ferry so that the driver can save a few dollars. Definitely an experience, though I don’t know if I would want to do it again.

After we arrive in Monterrico, we immediately drop all our stuff at the Hotel Dos Mundos and head out to the pool. The pool is almost an infinity pool (no infinity edge but overlooking the ocean. We have a few fantastic pina coladas, which are served in hollowed out pineapples. Then we make our way to the beach, which is hot since the sand is completely black! The ocean current is far too strong to swim in, and the sand is too sharp and black to be hospitable, but it is still relaxing and beautiful, which is what we need after our harried journey.

We walk along the beach waiting for the sun to set and I take some nice pics. Later, we see baby leatherback turtles being released to the ocean. It is really cute.

Unfortunately I am feeling sick from an awful meal we had by the market in Chichichastenango, and I develop a fever and what I’ll mercifully call “digestive problems.” Unfortunately that means I can’t check out the nightlife.

The next day, we spend the better part of the day at the beach, enjoying ceviche and taking in some sun. Around mid afternoon, the bus is back to take us back to Guatemala City. On the way back we see a volcano fully erupting, a good omen I think!

Our beach stay was not long, but it was definitely refreshing! We return to Guatemala City and stay at the Intercontinental (link2), skipping the Otelito, since it is the same price and in my view, the Intercontinental is much nicer. We go out for a bit and take in more nightlife, but crash early as we have early morning flights back to NYC.

And there you have it!

Guatemala, Days 6-7 – Chichicastenango

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. These are days 6-7 of my 9 day account.

Of course, we are up early to catch the morning bus to Chichi. Coming along with us is a French diplomat and his wife, who are very friendly. He has a pretty cool life – he gets to travel around to different countries but I imagine its tough when you have to relocate all the time.

The trip is long and punctuated by wrong turns and random delays. We are stuck in a traffic jam caused by a landslide for over an hour, as the machines move the rubble.

Upon entering Chichi, we were initially unimpressed. It’s more of a village than a town. And a dusty one at that. We check into our hotel, the Santo Tomas, which is actually quite beautiful.

After we’ve settled in, we head to the market square. As it is Wednesday afternoon, the market is not yet in full swing (Thursdays and Sundays are the main days for the market. Still, it gives us a chance to look around, check out the church, and scope the market for tomorrow. I was particularly interested in the church because of its syncretic characteristics (the town’s church combines elements of Christianity and Mayan religion). A funeral happened to be taking place as we passed by.

Another characteristic of this town is the huge mural that covers two inner walls surrounding the market.

After we surveyed the market, there was not much to do so we checked out Lonely Planet’s suggestion to check out the idol at a nearby hilltop. Walking to this idol seemed scary and dangerous, not because it was in the middle of the woods, but because it was so out of the way and unpopulated, heightening the fear that we would be robbed. We walked by a machete store and got directions to make sure we were on the right path. He was a really sweet old man and asked if we wanted a machete. I wondered if I needed one! In any case, the idol was not worth the hike, but it was a cool and scary adventure nonetheless.

We then retired to the hotel and ate there as well. The food was uneventful and the wine terrible. We did have a great local rum at the bar, however. Afterwards, we returned to our room which was freezing. We tried to light the chimney ourselves but it was damn difficult and we gave up (the staff would have lit the fire but we didn’t bother).

The next day we did all of our shopping. In retrospect, I wish I had bought more here, because they really have stuff you don’t find anywhere else in Guatemala, even in Antigua. There were some really nice silk scarves and other things as well. You must bargain with everyone, and it makes sense to start at half of what anyone is offering you and not go too far past 60 percent as a final price. Even then, you are likely being ripped off, especially on the wooden Mayan masks that are so popular.

Having learned that there is no direct shuttle bus to Monterrico, we headed back to Antigua with the idea that we would hit an early morning bus to Monterrico the next day. This bus was larger, and absolutely packed. We ran into another traffic jam, of course. This one was slightly different though, in that it was enormous, and it seemed almost designed to create a local economy in peddlers and roadside vendors. It otherwise didn’t make sense that the vendors where to expect the traffic jam on a highway.

If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would not stay two days in Chichicastenango — there just isn’t enough to do there. Better to catch an early morning Thursday bus and return the same evening. Also, the travel options are not great going to or from Chichi on any other day besides Thursday.

We arrived in Antigua and returned to our old standby hotel, Quinta de las Flores, since Casa Azul is sold out. No matter. We retire early in the night, to rest up for our early morning shuttle to Monterrico. Beach, here we come!

Guatemala, Day 5 – Panajachel, Quetzaltenango

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. This is Day 5 of my 9 Day account.

We are up early again, like 6 am. Dammit. I am really hung over. Jesus is the MAN of San Pedro.We rush down to the lakeside to catch the ferry, but we are not the last to arrive. The cigarette-smoking couple from Urquizu is joining us. Again. Small world. We catch the first of the four ferry trips we will take today, this time to San Pedro. As we arrive, locals wash their laundry (and themselves) at the water by the base of the town. Men fish on handmade canoes (pictured below). The town is built right into the mountainside, which means more climbing. We stop halfway up to the town at a coffeeshop. I take shots of locals and local scenery, while my friend wanders on his own.

After about an hour, we take the next ferry to Santiago Here, the women all wear striking purple dresses (pictured). Santiago is also built into the mountainside, which means, you guessed it, more climbing. Local kids offer to take us to some idol for a few pennies, but it sounds like a shady scam, so we pass. On the way back down, we hit up a local taco stand for some awesome tacos, but they make me wonder if we have taken our life into our hands. We descend back to the lake and catch the next ferry just in time.

The next ferry takes us to San Antonio Palopo (pictured left). Three Mayan kids join us for the ride, and they are cute but camera-shy. In their culture, its like stealing your soul or something to have your picture taken. Oh well. Palopo is a dump. In retrospect, it would have been far better to spend more time in San Pedro and, to a lesser extent, Santiago. Even Panajachel, which is by far the most developed village.

The fourth ferry takes us for the last time to Panajachel. We catch the shuttle to Quetzaltenango (Xela). We arrive there at night, and eat at Alba Mar. The chilaquiles are pretty good – its a turkey cheese and tomato base soup. Afterwards, we crash at the hotel and play some chess. We learn that we can’t catch a bus to Chichicastenango except at 7am, which leads us to conclude that we should leave Xela a day early and spend it at Chichi. Which means a 7 am bus tomorrow. Which means another early morning. Awesome.

Guatemala, Day 4 – The Volcano

Recently I went on a trip to Guatemala. This is Day 4 of my 9 Day account.

Perspective

We are up at an inhumane hour in order to catch the 6 a.m. bus to Pacaya. Awesome, a 1.5 hour bus ride with the annoying couple that smoked next to use at Urquizu. We arrive at the base of the PacayaThe Descent Volcano, where children try to sell us walking sticks for a couple quetzales. No one bites. We begin the ascent, which is way more difficult than we thought. We practically run up the first leg, ignorant of how much further we have to go. The climb is a total bitch, and with little sleep, I am dragging ass. Once at the top, we descend to approach the lava. We traverse a jagged expanse of cooled lava. The rocks are uneven and shift about; a misstep could mean a serious gash, or worse.

liquid-hot-magma.jpgFinally, we get to the LIQUID HOT MAG-MA. I’d say it more often if I wasn’t gasping for breath. We snap a few pictures and warm ourselves by the lava flow. A vulcanologist (I’ve always wanted to use thatGuatemalan Macgyver word) boils water by putting a teakettle on the ground. One of the eerie things about the volcano is a persistent “clinking sound,” one that could only be likened to the distant sound of many panes of very thin glass being shattered.

We return to the summit and begin the descent, which is thankfully much easier than the ascent. I slip on some gravel and bang my knee, hard. We make the journey back to Antigua and have lunch at La Escudilla. The food is ok, but not Urquizu good. We stroll into some churches after and prepare for the shuttle to Panajachel.
La Escuidilla, AntiguaAntigua ChurchAntigua Arch

At 4 p.m. we depart Antigua. The driver is an absolute lunatic, speeding through hair-pin turns with unguarded ravines to either side of us. We are all bounced around in the bus as this madman passes trucks around blind curves. I am furious; my friend is unaffected. The drive takes a lot out of me, and I need aspirin to calm down and relieve my headache.

At Panajachel, we eat a decent seafood dinner at Casablanca. Curiously, there are posters of Sikh gurus and other Indian art adorning the walls. Afterwards, we get drunk at Pana Rock Cafe. The live music is great and the singer looks just like Santana. I walk home beneath more stars than I have ever seen. I lay out by the pool outside my hotel room before crashing, taking in the sky.