10 December 2017
Okay, a quick summary about what we did in the UK before I start talking about Tikal. We mostly saw family when we went to the UK and although it was wonderful to catch up with everyone we hadn't seen in two years, we didn't really do much else while we were there.
So we arrived from Fort Lauderdale to Gatwick on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (a new model of airplanes that came out two months before we left FLL - we had a really luxurious flight), hired a car, and drove to Twickenham to stay the night with friends Anna, Pete and Sam from a yacht called Penny Lane - you might remember them.
We drove for a few hours up to Derbyshire, and spent a few days with my Grandad Eames - visiting Great-Grandad Tyas, Auntie Julie and Uncle Rob, and Great-Grandma and Grandad Stone - before heading off to spend a couple of days with Paul's mum in Withernsea. From there we headed up to Scarborough to see Paul's sister, Claire, in her new house. I hadn't expected pretty much the whole Thornton family to be there, though! We had me, Mum, Paul, Grandma, all four of Paul's brothers, their sister, their partners, their children and grandchildren. This included three new arrivals Mum, Paul and I - in our two-year absence - had not yet met: Levi, Rosie and Isaac. So I think it's safe to say it was pretty crowded in that house! It was good to get out and take Dan and Clare's dog - Sky (who is not a man-eating maniac like our Sky) - for a walk to the beach.
We returned to Grandad's for another few days before we were due back to Fort Lauderdale to take the indirect flight back to Honduras. We had a "barbecue that wasn't really a barbecue" - mainly because we cooked everything on the stove rather than in a... well... barbecue. However, we did eat outside. We invited my two cousins from my late father's family - Sharon and Janice - their husbands Andrew and Lee, and kids Ben, Edie, Adam and Tilly. My sister Emma, her boyfriend Luke, and their little cocker spaniel Charlie came at invitation as well. The kids, Charlie and I had a blast running around the back garden, playing tag (or "tig", as I'd forgotten we called it in primary school). Then we all sat down for burgers, sausages (vegetarian and all) and buttered corn on the cob (the nice sweet stuff, you lot in Central and South America, not the flavourless, tough, chewy stuff). We had a great evening catching up with everyone.
And I suppose that's it. We headed back to London, spent another night in Twickenham, headed to Gatwick Airport the next day, took an indirect flight back to Honduras, and took a taxi back to Tijax, Rio Dulce.
Almost the minute after we got back to Rio Dulce, we hauled our boat out of the water and set it on stilts in a boatyard. We were preparing it for our departure at the end of November. Now, everyone who sails aboard their own boat will understand it when I say we had the "boatyard blues". Being on the hard (a common word for having the boat in a boatyard) is never fun. We were working on the boat every day for the next three weeks, it was sweltering hot with no breeze, we had to walk to the boatyard bathrooms every time we needed a wee (it wasn't far, but it was just annoying having to climb down the ladder and walk across the boatyard every time you needed to go)... all that lovely stuff. I'm telling you this so that non-cruisers can understand that sailing isn't all drifting through blue waters with the sails full in the wind, sitting on deck under the gorgeous sunshine and sipping Caribbean cocktails. It takes sweat, blood and tears to get to do that at times.
Now let's move on to the events of Tikal.
Tikal is a little like El Mirador: a thicket of jungle, with huge Mayan temples and old relics. There's something quite magical about that place - maybe there's some undiscovered wizarding village nearby (sorry - the thrill of going to Universal Studios still hasn't left me!). It was a good three hours away from Rio Dulce. We had booked a guide who spoke English to give us a tour of Tikal. We went with Dave and Janice from Livin' Life, who had a car in Guatemala and could drive us there.
Tikal was simply magical, and totally worth the long drive there. We stayed in a hotel with comfortable rooms and a swimming pool. We had a swim in the pool until it started to get dark and the water got cold. By that time, the crickets had started up, and we saw fireflies littering the grass, flashing their lights. And I'm not talking about one or two. The closest I've ever seen to a display of fireflies like this is in a Disney movie. It was simply beautiful - just the sort of thing you expect to see in a magical place like Tikal. 🙂
We spent the whole of the next morning touring Tikal with our brilliant tour guide, Miguel, who spoke beautiful English and was - to Mum and Janice's delight - an eager bird-watcher. I won't bore you non-bird-watchers with all the details about what we saw (if you want a blow-by-blow account of all the birds we saw, Jayne Eames would be more than happy to give that to you), but we did see toucans and hummingbirds and quite a stunning turkey. No, that wasn't a misspelling. Turkeys can be actually really beautiful. I'm sure we have a photograph to prove it to you.
Anyways, the walk. Well, I'm afraid tours in the jungle aren't all the into-the-unknown adventures, slashing our machetes through thickets of trees and at man-sized hornets (sorry, Hollywood). We had a designated path, rather like when Paul and I did the El Mirador hike. We saw plenty of birds, and a group of coati. Coati look like racoons, but they have thinner noses and their tails aren't bushy. They weren't at all fazed by us being there, coming right up to us, even the babies. I WANT ONE.
The temples and the views they offered were simply spectacular. There were four altogether, excepting the ones that were left uncovered in the earth. I can't wait to show you the photographs of them.
After we finished the tour, we went back to the hotel for a late lunch, and made a quick trip to the museum. It had a display of ancient Mayan relics, like stone and metal idols and obsidian knives (y'know, for the temple sacrifices). After that, we drove off to Flores.
I'm sure you remember that Paul and I made a stop at Flores on the way to El Mirador. This was only a quick stop, to split the journey. We stayed a couple of days, enjoying the quaint, pretty town. We stayed in a hotel that felt almost luxurious for Guatemala standards, browsed the tourist shops (which, frankly, was quite futile after entering one - they all had almost identical Guatemala souvenirs), walked down the promenade of the lake (Flores an island set in the middle of a lake and joined by a bridge to the mainland) drank dirt-cheap but gorgeous cocktails during Happy Hour... basically turned into proper tourists.
We left for Rio Dulce again the next day, thanking Janice and Dave for taking us for a great couple of days to Tikal. Although we weren't looking forward to going back to our very stationary boat, it was good to see Paul and great to see Sky again.
All right, I think that will be all for now. See you next time!
(P.S. Photos will be out as soon as possible)
USA part 2
16 November 2017
So we made it to the Robinsons' house in Maryland, and I have to say, that house is enormous! You could fit our whole boat in their living room - mast and all. It seems incredible that this is the average size of an American house.
It was great to see Jill, Bob, Leslie, Caleb and Ollie again, and meet the new member of the Robinson family: Evie, their brown poodle. Unlike Sky, Evie was a little sweetheart who knew exactly how to play a game of fetch and not treat everyone she met like a chew toy. Though in a way she's like Sky, because whenever one of the members of the family came back after being out of the house for a minimum of two minutes, Evie would act as though she'd been abandoned for a whole week and go crazy over seeing them again. She was adored by the entire family, though I think she and Ollie had an especially strong relationship.
I felt like part of the family while I was there. Jill and Bob were so kind to me and looked after me so well. I had an inflated mattress that took up a lot of poor Leslie's room (how does it feel to be able to walk around properly in your room now, Les?), and I was fed like a queen.
When Mum and Paul arrived at their air B&B in Maryland a couple of days later, we did a bit of tourism in Annapolis. Jill recommended a guided tour of the history of Maryland. Our tour guide was very informative, but I will admit he talked so much at a time that I often found myself lost in his speeches. Then again, that's likely because I lack concentration skills. It was interesting seeing the artefacts of the government houses, though seeing the enormous navy academy where Jill and Bob studied was more so. We watched as students walked around the grounds in the standard navy suits, saluting as a commander passed them. It was a shame we couldn't stay for very long, but the tour was to end at 1PM and, besides, we were really hungry.
We had a day in Washington DC. There were a couple of Smithsonian museums we went to: the Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum. I enjoyed the Natural History Museum the best, especially the photography room. You really needed to spend a whole day there to get through everything properly. We saw the White House on the way back to Maryland. We have a photo somewhere I'll be able to show you.
I went over to the air B&B Mum and Paul were staying in for an evening to have dinner with the family who owned the house. They were a family of seven, living in a house that was pretty small for American standards, but it was cosy and the kids seemed cheery and healthy. We were having dinner for one of the kids' birthday, so we had quite a banquet. Before dinner, the two oldest kids invited me to play lazer tag, where we each had toy guns that degenerated in power if they were shot. The youngest kid watched us from the patio. Now, she was (forgive me, Paul, but I'm sure you can agree it's the only way to describe her) cute. Really cute. She's at that stage where she's only just learning to talk, and yet she talks twice as much as any of the other kids in the house.
We had a great day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival with the Robinsons', as well as Janice and Dave, and Lauren, Bruce and Luke. The festival was basically completely mediaeval-themed, with people walking around in old-fashioned costumes. There were food stalls with "Ye Ole' such-and-such" signs hung up outside; shops selling corsets and dresses, paintings, glasswork, etc.; stages where scheduled performances were produced; game stalls which offered archery, knife-throwing, ball-tossing, etc.; and a full jousting court. The jousting event included real horses running across the sawdust, with the riders hooking thrown hula-hoops onto their round-ended javelins, spearing hay and attempting to unseat their opponents from their horses. We were very excited to see Lauren, Bruce and Luke again, especially since this would be the last chance we would get to see them in a while.
On the topic of Luke, I just wanted to point something out to all those who say it's dangerous to take young children sailing. Luke sailed with his parents for most of the two years of his life without sustaining any major injuries. However, as soon as he and his parents went back home to Virginia for the hurricane season, he broke his arm. So there you have it.
We spent the whole day at the festival, mostly wandering around on our own, though we did all sit down for the stage performances. There was a man who danced around with balls on string, a couple of comedy remakes of Shakespeare plays - Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet - and a comical magic show. We had a great day.
We left Maryland early in the morning to head off to Adrian and Leslie Pringle's house. They had invited us to stay overnight to break up the journey to Florida. We met Leslie, Adrian and their cat and dog on the OCC Baltic Rally in 2014, and since then they sold their boat in Ipswich and moved to America. We hadn't seen them in nearly three years, so we couldn't wait to catch up with them again.
Their house is HUGE even by American standards, and they have an RV on the driveway. It was quite a wealthy district they were on, so I wasn't surprised. Their house was beautiful inside. Leslie Robinson and I shared an attic room that was half the size of our whole boat. We had an excellent little buffet and caught up with Leslie Pringle and Adrian, spending the night in their house. I think Leslie Robinson thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in an attic room so enormous you could fit half our boat in there. We spent the morning with Leslie Pringle and Adrian before heading off to Florida.
We reached Orlando and spent a couple of nights in another air B&B. This one was part of three blocks of apartments. It was reasonably priced for what it was: a three-roomed flat with a living-room/dining room, a kitchen, a bedroom with one double bed, and a bathroom. The sofa pulled out to become another double bed. It wasn't very comfortable, but it did the job. We had a light dinner and went to bed for an early rise in the morning.
The reason for this was because of something we had planned a while back, but I wanted to create a "surprise!" moment so I didn't mention it until now.
My birthday is on the 31st of October, but I was given an early birthday present: two tickets to go to Universal Studios Orlando - Islands of Adventure! Before we left for America, Leslie and I were asked which Universal Studios park we wanted to go to - since there were two - and agreed on Islands of Adventure. Personally, I'm glad we went with that decision, because I think (I won't generalize in case you disagree, Le) we had a fabulous day!
Don't feel bad for Mum and Paul - they're not into this sort of thing and, anyways, they went to Kennedy Space Centre! Of course, I have no idea what it was like, but they say they had a great day, too. I'll ask Mum to give a blow-by-blow of every minute of her day.
We got up really early so we could enjoy a full day of fun, and headed out of the B&B, and for the theme park.
I'll just give a brief explanation of Islands of Adventure. It's a multi-themed park - the themes being (excepting the Entrance Island, which was basically a multi-themed shopping centre) Dr. Seuss, The Lost Continent, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Skull Island of Kong, Toon Lagoon and Marvel. Each "island" has at least one ride (apart from The Lost Continent, which had live theatre shows instead) and shops themed around the island.
We got into the park pretty easily - just through a couple of security gates after leaving the City Walk (fancy). Because we are both die-hard Potterheads, the first thing we did when we took a map from a stand was look for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was basically a recreation of Hogsmeade (a wizarding village near the Hogwarts castle) with all the shops from the books: Honeydukes (a sweetshop), the Three Broomsticks (a popular bar), the Hog's Head (another bar with a far lower reputation than the Three Broomsticks), Dervish and Banges (a wizarding equipment shop in the books, but merely a store you could buy Harry Potter merchandise from in Universal), and a few other "shops" that were just there for decoration. I found it funny that Hogsmeade was covered in makeshift snow even though it was sweltering hot in Orlando.
The first thing we did was go on the first ride we came across, which seemed to go underground the Hogwarts castle (which, I must say, was a lot smaller than I'd imagined when reading the books, but hey, it's Hogwarts - how can I complain?). I think we made good time, because there were railings for a queue zig-zagging for miles, and we basically just jumped straight to the right in about three seconds flat. It was basically a simulation where you sat in a cart and rocketed around in front of a projected screen, with the real actors from the movies taking you on some sort of "forbidden journey" - going from encountering a loose dragon, to competing in a Quidditch (a sport played on broomsticks) tournament (Leslie became rather upset when Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) called us Harry's "Muggle admirers" - Muggles are non-magic people, FYI) to battling Dementors (big black cloaked figures that suck all the happiness out of someone), all that good stuff.
We stayed in "Hogsmeade" for literally about two hours. Leslie was desperate to try Butterbeer, even though I tried to reason with her it was basically cream soda topped with whipped butter (I had tried it when I went to Warner Bros. Studios - and though I found it disgusting at least I got to take home a pretty cool Butterbeer mug). It was ironic it was chilled, since in the books the beverage was described thus: "foaming mugs of hot Butterbeer". While she got her Harry Potter-styled root beer float, I bought myself a Pumpkin Juice - though, looking at the ingredients, a more honest name would be, "apple juice with nutmeg and pumpkin flavouring in a bottle with a pumpkin for a lid". Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed it, chilling in the Three Broomsticks with Leslie, who absolutely adored her Butterbeer. It was the same recipe as used in Warner Bros. Studios, so I was surprised. Then again, she did tell me she enjoyed cream soda, so I'll let her off this time.
We certainly did come to Hogsmeade at the right time. As we were leaving to look around the rest of the park at late morning, it had become very crowded, but not so much that we could barely move.
From there, we did some "island-hopping" (I thought I'd never use that phrase again after we left the Caribbean islands) around the park. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the rest of the park themes since I'd never read the books or watched the movies, but I will try to describe them as best and briefly as I can: the Dr. Seuss Island looked like it was made of marshmallows, and included buildings dedicated to Dr. Seuss's most famous characters, like the Cat in the Hat and the Lorax; the Lost Continent was an ancient relic of Arabia; Jurassic Park was - you guessed it - a park with loads of dinosaur animatronics; Skull Island was literally a ride, using the same method as the "Forbidden Journey" ride, the entrance a skull rock; Toon Lagoon was cartoon heaven, with lampposts with speech bubbles you could stand under as though you were saying what was on them; and last but not least, the MARVEL island was a typical superhero city with skyscrapers (I bet it would've looked cool at night) with people dressed up as MARVEL superheroes like Wolverine and Wonder Woman and Iron Man. We went on every ride that looked fun, since they came free with our park tickets. Not ironically, the only island we actually spent money in was the Harry Potter one: we bought the drinks, and two sets of badges. We had brought our own lunch.
After we had done everything, we basically wandered around aimlessly, examining the scenery of each of the themes, before I suggested we go look around in the entrance island. It was early evening by then, and we had finished looking around. We found a brilliant multi-themed shop selling merch from all the fandoms. And of course, being the general geeks we were - we camped out in the Harry Potter section, doing a fake shop loot and practically drooling over the t-shirts. It was such a shame they were so expensive...
Whoa! Leslie texted her mum to tell her the price of some t-shirts, and Jill said she'd buy one for each of us! After all she'd done for me, she was buying a t-shirt for me, too! Thank you so much for everything, Jill!
Well, now we were in a rush. It was getting late and we had no idea where the nearest ATM was. We Naruto-ran (come on, we were in geek heaven - we may as well let our anime geekiness shine, too) to find an ATM in the Marvel Island to get out enough money from Jill's bank to buy the t-shirts before the park closed. We made great timing, and even had just enough time to go on one more ride before we left. We had a very embarrassing episode getting on the ride. Because we were in a rush, we tried to go through on the single-riders lane (basically like the fast pass lane that puts you on a lane you can get on the ride quicker, but if you're in a group you'll get separated). However, we somehow managed to get onto the normal line. We knew we were in the wrong queue, and we were in a hurry. There was a lane next to us barred off with a fence that was easily climbed over. Thinking this was the real single-riders lane, we climbed into it. Leslie told me after that she heard someone say, "They're trying to jump the queue, huh?" We found out what they meant when we got to a ride attendant, asking if this was the single-riders lane. She gave us a dirty look and told us it wasn't. Oops! We'd accidentally landed ourselves in the fast pass lane. But she said we would have to go through now. So we did, unable to believe our luck. We got onto the ride quickly and we were able to sit together, too. We were still a bit humiliated, but what could you do, eh? We'd made a mistake, is all.
We dropped Leslie off at her airport the next day, and started driving to a friend's house. We met Kellie and her family while we were in Secret Harbour Marina in Grenada, and made good friends with them. Upon leaving Grenada they headed up to their home in Florida. They invited us to visit them while we were in the State. Another enormous house (I wonder what people with these huge houses do with all the space), another awesome family. Hannah made a gorgeous cake, we played some volleyball, and I learned that I was VERY bad at darts.
On the way, we met up with Denise in a small park for a chat. We hadn't seen her in a year, so it was great to catch up, even if it was a very fleeting visit.
Well, talking about sitting in an airport isn't remotely interesting, so I'm just gonna go ahead and sign off now. I'll be talking about our time in England in the next blog.
But for now, see y'later, alligator!
USA Solar Eclipse
20 September 2017
The majority of our last few weeks in Guatemala until America wasn't really anything worth writing about, so I thought I'd just bundle you straight onto our Spirit flight to America.
But before we take off, I might just explain why exactly I'm taking you to America.
I'm guessing a lot of you know this, but there was a total eclipse in America on the 21st of August. Everyone who knows Mum knows she's a mad scientist when it comes to astronomy, so of course she had to be there to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the eclipse. I was pretty excited because I'd never seen a total eclipse before, but I've seen photographs on the Internet of previous total eclipses and it looked like it would be awesome.
We also took the opportunity while we were in America to see a few friends: Kim, Simon and Sienna Brown from Sailing Britican (if you're not following any of her blogs, which are all over the Internet, then you're missing out on a LOT); Jill, Bob, Leslie, Caleb and Oliver Robinson from Honu Kai - a catamaran they sold after their year-long cruise (more about which you can find in Jill's book, "It's Always an Adventure! - Robinson Family Cruisers"); Kellie, Nate, Hannah, Owen and Eli; Janice and David Rowland from Livin' Life (they have a blog on Facebook called "Livin' Life" if you want to check it out - and I definitely recommend you do); Lauren, Bruce and Luke from Vidorra; Leslie and Adrian Pringle; and Denise Allen from Ursa Major. We had met all of these people from sailing and kept in touch.
I was looking forward to going to America because I hadn't been for several years. Long before Mum had met Paul, she and I had gone to Tennessee to visit two of my grandparents who were living there at the time (they're now back in the UK after spending twenty years in America. Because I was 5 at the time, I'd completely forgotten what the country was like. Of course, I know every State is quite different from one another, so that would mean I'm even more clueless.
The Spirit airlines from Honduras to Miami was reasonably priced, and we had a very comfortable journey. There was plenty of leg-room in our seating on the plane for Paul to stretch comfortably, and we got a great view of Miami. It was nighttime, so we only saw webs of light below us, but I think that looked even cooler than it would've done during the day.
Next stop after landing was the car rental place, which was right next to the Fort Lauderdale airport. The first thing we learned about American cars was that every single one of their number plates had the name of the State the owner was from written above the number. The car we rented had "Texas" written above it and, for whatever reason, our friends from South Carolina and Maryland had a right laugh about it.
We drove for the entire day to South Carolina. To my astonishment, Florida felt even hotter than Guatemala. Maybe it was something to do with the lack of humidity in comparison to Guatemala, making the air stiffer here.
We often wondered why Guatemala was classed as a "third-world country". It was lively, everyone was healthy and happy, and the clothes they wore were rather the same as what we wear in the UK and the USA. But upon coming to the States, we realized that, after spending over a year and a half in the islands and countries of the Caribbean Islands, we had rather forgotten what a rich industrialised country looked like. You could get everything here. Mum got really hyped up when we entered a Wal-Mart: the supermarket was so enormous you could scarcely see the end of it. I don't think we've ever entered a British supermarket so huge. But then again, in America, everything seems have gone through a photocopier and made larger: the buildings, the food portions in restaurants (making it difficult to go hungry), the roads (which were four lanes wide either direction on the motorways... sorry, highways)...
So, anyways. We arrived in Charleston at late evening and met up with Kim and Sienna at the harbour, and enjoyed their company and hospitality for the next week or so.
Charleston was a very touristy place - perhaps because of the "warm" weather (I add the quotation marks here because, like Florida, it felt hotter than Guatemala. I was slightly annoyed because I had thought we'd escaped the heat for a while). It was a very lively city, as we saw when we had a walk around. There was a park at the riverside with a couple of wading fountains. I put a picture of the fountain rules sign below because I, personally, think some of the rules were hilariously ridiculous. The other side of the sign said: "No lifeguard on duty - wade at your own risk!" Upon reading that, I decided, "Well, I'd better not go in. I might drown in the two inches of water, and there's no lifeguard to save me!"
One thing that excites me the most in that park were the number of squirrels. There were SO MANY. Anyone who knows me also knows I have HUGE feelings for animals - big or small. Like, I want to kidnap every dog I see on the street and make absolute certain they're given the right treatment. That's not completely insane, right?
Leslie and Jill arrived in Charleston a couple of days before the eclipse was due. I was SO excited to see Leslie, since I hadn't seen her in a year and a half. It was slightly awkward at first, picking up where we left off, but it didn't take us long, and soon it felt like we'd never been apart. We all went swimming together in an enormous outdoor pool, and mostly just trod water and chatted.
There was a potluck (a social event popular amongst cruisers, where people bring different dishes they've made, and then chat to other guests while nibbling on the food) on the pontoon Britican was docked to, and half the marina came with enough food for an army (see, I told you the food portions are huge in America!). Guests included Amy, a young woman who cruised with Vidorra a while back, who had driven with her aunt, Ruth, from Virginia to South Carolina to see the eclipse (rather like many other people from different States). It was so good to see her again.
Now, I know lots of you are dying to hear about our experience with the eclipse, so here you go:
So, to start with, it was pretty hectic. We had a weather forecast that told us it was going to be cloudy over Charleston, so we wouldn't be able to see the eclipse. Mum was frantically trying to work out where the best place would be to go to see totality where it wouldn't be cloudy. But it was all a game of luck - go somewhere else to see it, and risk deep disappointment if the forecast is wrong and it's clear over Charleston and cloudy over where we end up going; or stay in Charleston, and take the risk of believing the forecast is inaccurate.
Either way, it was going to be a risk.
Mum was going to believe the forecast, and decided to drive me, Paul and Leslie to Santee to see the eclipse. Kim, Simon, Sienna and Jill stayed in Charleston (Kim was sure Sienna, as a seven-year-old child, would very quickly get bored waiting for the eclipse). Amy and Ruth came in a separate car. We arrived in a woodland, crowded with eclipse-watchers. Ramming our eclipse glasses on, we lay on our backs on the grass watched as the sun slowly - slowly - disappeared from view, becoming a half-sun... a quarter-sun... a crescent-sun...
Oh, great! We were covered
a thin strip of light... all around was getting darker and darker... crickets starting chirping, thinking nighttime had come early... then, an hour and a half after it all started...
It was one of the most stunning natural occurrences I've seen in my life. I could now see why total eclipses were nicknamed "diamond ring": before totality, the brightest slip of light left of the sun made the ring of light truly made it look like a diamond ring.
Then the sun was swallowed completely in the blackness and, for about a minute and a half, we were submerged in an evening light.
Mum, of course, screamed with excitement. Although she told me she's already seen four total eclipses before this one, I couldn't blame her for her reaction - surely this had to be exciting no matter how many times you saw it. Amy actually burst into tears, so overwhelmed by the sight of her first ever eclipse. I didn't catch Paul, Leslie and Ruth's reactions, but I think they were pretty thrilled themselves. It got dark enough to see the stars and planets, so Mum, after calming herself down enough, pointed out different planets to us. I was babbling like an idiot, "Is that a plane? Or is it a planet? I think it's a plane because it's moving."
After the sun became too bright to look at with the naked eye again, people started departing almost immediately, including us. Leslie and I were going to meet up halfway back to Charleston with Jill to go to their house in Maryland.
All right, that's all for now. I'll talk about the rest of our stay in America next time.
El Mirador, Guatemala
10 August 2017
Whew! Who knew hiking could be so tiring?
A couple of weeks ago, Paul and I took a five-day hike to an ancient Mayan city called El Mirador.
We were going with a couple of friends: our good buddy from Grenada, Steve, from Slow Flight, and our lovely Japanese friend, Chizuru. We were also going with a group of other people. Originally, there was only gonna be about nine of us, but at the last minute a huge group of Belgiums signed up for the same group as us, so we ended up with, like, 20 people in the group. Although this meant we had to swap seats at the dinner tables at each of the camps to allow people to sit and eat at the table, they were an awesome bunch and became almost like family on that hike.
We left Rio Dulce for La Flores - where we were meeting up with Steve and Chi - on the "Gold" bus. I insert the quotation marks because this bus was supposedly a high-class trip (it's always nice to have one when you're sitting in a bus for three hours), but honestly, it probably would've just been worth taking a tuc-tuc to La Flores. You could hear the engine rattling, the windows were all cracked and filthy, and the air conditioning was so freezing I eventually had to grab my blanket from my bag (we were recommended to bring them, since they didn't offer them at the camps) and wrap it around myself to keep myself warm - and I'm speaking from the sweltering-hot Central America here!
We were dropped off at the bus station in La Flores and took a taxi into the city to find our friends. As we were slowly passing a restaurant, a loud rapping noise came from the back of the car. We turned to see Steve waving at us from behind the rear window.
After a dinner of chicken and salad and a last round of cold beer before the hike, we headed off to find the Greenworld Hostel, where Paul and I would be staying for the night. It wasn't exactly difficult: "Find a bright green building". Done. Said our goodnights and got ourselves into our rooms, and got into bed straight away (thank goodness there were two beds... you'd have to pay me to get me to sleep with Paul).
The alarm woke us up at 4am the next morning. We had everything packed and ready to go, so once Paul got himself up (finally), we left the hostel to wait for the bus to take us to the start of the hike. However, we ended up taking a car with a couple of Spanish girls who were also doing the hike and didn't speak a lot of English. The journey took us a further three hours. After all that sitting down, we were quite ready to get our legs moving!
And that we did after a quick lunch in the small town where we started. After that, we weren't sitting down for a while.
We only walked for four hours on the first day, since we started at 1pm. We were warned beforehand that there was going to be (and I quote) "Mud, mud, and mud", and the tour organiser guy on Messenger wasn't lying. We often had to be careful not to get our hiking boots sucked into the slimy brown muck everywhere. Some friends told us they were going to wait until the dry season (from November to May) to do the hike. They probably had the right idea.
Thankfully, the forest was mostly sheltered from the sun by the trees. However, not completely. The rainforest was relatively thinner than I'd expected. This was apparently because the layer of soil in the forest was a thin covering on solid stone, so the trees roots didn't have a lot to dig themselves into. So every time there was a storm, the trees fell over.
We also got to see wildlife! It's funny how, no matter how many times you see a monkey, you're always crying out with excitement at the sight of one. And these spider monkeys knew just how excited we could get. They started showing off up in the trees, pelting things at us, shaking branches so vigorously that we were showered with leaves, jumping from branch to branch, hanging from their tails... man. We had seen three howler monkeys leaping from the trees one side of a river to the trees on the other side on a kayaking trip we did... and we thought THAT was impressive!
Halfway to the first camp, we stopped for lunch. We had had quite a large breakfast, so I wasn't all that surprised to get a sandwich made up of tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and defrosted bread. That was for Paul and me, who'd signed up for the vegetarian meals. The rest had ham in their sandwiches. At the lunch stop, we saw an enormous spider in a web that clung to two trees. It was amazing... until Paul accidentally walked straight through the web, instantly crushing the spider's home and hard work. All I could think about, as we left the lunch camp, was that we'd be coming back here, and the spider would likely be waiting for its revenge.
The camps of the El Mirador hike were spaces not covered in trees. consisted of a kitchen and a dining room sheltered by a black sheet of plastic; a toilet walled with the same kind of plastic (the "toilet" was a concrete seat with a hole in the middle, and the waste went into a pit in the ground, which you'd probably be able to see down if you shone a flashlight down into it - not that you'd want to); and tents we were to sleep in were put up under more plastic sheets. Paul and I shared a small tent and a memory foam mattress, and we soon found out why we needed the blankets. The nights were pretty chilly (not as chilly as the air-conditioning in the bus, but close), so I was glad to have the blanket handy.
We woke at an early start of 6am. We got breakfast down and left the camp at 7. This hike would take us all day, but lucky I came prepared with my Kindle and headphones. I had copied some music onto my Kindle, so that helped time to go by while I walked. At least, until it started raining heavily and I had to zip my waterproof bag up. Luckily, we had a good place to shelter from the rain until it stopped: right next to a Mayan temple. It was a small one, but still amazing to see, considering it was over 2000 years old. We were only a couple of miles away from the next camp, so after the rain stopped we pretty much legged it there before it started again.
This camp was enormous! There was a huge field between the tents and everything else (the kitchen, the showers and the toilet - we went behind a tree if we were desperate). There was also a huge, dead, fallen tree. My tree-climbing instincts were calling me, but the rest of my body told me, "No way! You're fourteen years old, not a kid! Besides, I'm exhausted. To the tent!" We ate dinner before heading for bed.
The third day was tour day! I woke up feeling energized and excited to see the Mayan ruins. After a breakfast of pancakes, we headed off.
We first saw a huge pit in the ground on the path to the temples. Our tour guide told us (as one of the Belgiums translated) that the floor of the pit used to be the floor of the path itself. However, the Mayans built the path higher so as to keep above the water floods when it rained. Clever of them.
You know I spoke before about the temple we saw when it rained? How I said it was rather small? It was perhaps about twenty feet tall, whereas this temple we were going to was - I dunno - like fifty feet tall. We all went up a set of stairs to the top, and were hit with a gorgeous breeze and a stunning view of the rainforest. We sat down for a while and sighed. We'd made it to the Mayan ruins, and here was our reward. Not too bad!
As we were heading back to the camp, we came across another small temple, and some artwork that was so clean it looked recent, but was as ancient as the rest of them.
That afternoon, we were supposed to be going on a hike, but I passed. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but my legs felt stiff and hurt really badly (okay, that was probably from the hiking), my head was aching, and I threw up my lunch. That was the first time I've been sick in about four years, and I dunno what was up with me. I got an hour of sleep and felt a little better afterwards, but the hiking party had already left, so Paul (who had stayed with me, claiming his legs were aching) and I hung out our wet clothes and dried our bags out (we found out the purpose of the tree - it was for hanging wet clothes up on) and then sat in the hammocks to read while we waited for the guys to come back.
That evening was an exciting one. We were in the period of the year when the "Keeper of the Keys" was in Guatemala. Richard Hansen is the leader of the El Mirador archeologist team, and he has the keys to a door leading into a tunnel that holds a mask. Not a face mask, but a huge stone ornamental temple decoration. According to Richard, he had taken a chance to find this and, while he was digging through the tunnel, he took a turn off and found the mask. It was very hard to see, since it was so cramped a space. But it was incredible that he had been so lucky to find this ancient monument.
The next morning, I woke up feeling a lot better than I did yesterday, and ready to start homeward bound. I won't bother going into detail about the things we saw this time, since it'd be like reading the first half of the blog backwards. Then again, I could've sworn that the amount of mosquitoes increased. Like, you couldn't stop for even a second without the little buggers whining in your ears and clinging to your legs. I felt like some daycare worker trying to keep my cool, though slowly bubbling up inside. That was the main reason why I was glad to eventually get out of that rainforest and onto the main road on the final day of the hike.
It turned out getting home later that day was also a bit of an adventure. We took the Tourist bus to La Flores and said goodbye to everyone. We headed off to the bus station, and found Paul needed some cash for the bus home. We didn't even get into the ATM near the ticket booth before we were informed it wasn't working. So we had to head down the streets to look for another. When we eventually got the tickets, we had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive. We got some good sandwiches and I paid a quetzal (10p) to use a toilet with a broken flush and no soap. Glad I had The Night Circus to read. I think I might've lost it if all I had for entertainment was the Spanish soap opera on the TV.
The bus wasn't air-conditioned, but it seemed like every single window was open, and it was cold because it was evening. Blanket out again.
We got home at about half eleven at night to a rabid dog who was too overly excited to see us and a "you came back an hour later than I'd expected, I was so worried, I thought you'd crashed and died or something" mum.
Let me tell you something, though: I'll not be taking my bed for granted again.
What an amazing hike, though! The walking bit was tough, though not as bad as on the Lost City hike back in Santa Marta, since it wasn't so mountainous. It was muddy, though (but what can you expect when your organizer tells you there's gonna be mud, mud and mud?), so our boots got really heavy after a while. Not to mention the sole of one of the hiking boots I borrowed off Mum started to fall off halfway through, and was nearly completely gone by the time we were home.
The ancient Mayan temples were spectacular, though! They had been preserved for over 2000 years, so it was incredible that they were still standing in great condition, save for the crumbling walls and vegetation growing all over them.
So if you ever make it to Guatemala, and enjoy hiking and ancient history, then the El Mirador hike is the one for you. — with Paul Thornton.
06 July 2017
We've arrived in Guatemala! Where Delphinus will be for the next six months until the end of hurricane season.
We motored our way down the beautiful Rio Dulce to get here, and admired the gorgeous tropical jungle as we cruised down, listening to its tranquility. It was blissful after the constant buzzing of the cities in Gran Cayman.
Our marina is like a ghost marina - pretty much every single boat docked here has been left by homeward-bound owners, and the only activity in the marina is in the bar and the pool, basically. There's a bridge leading out of the marina onto a footpath that's perfect for taking the dog out for walks on. We have that and a pool, a bar, free Wi-Fi that reaches our boat, laundry service and very kind staff. We got it good here.
The day after we arrived, the Guatemala OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) port officer - Kelly - organized a trip for us, Steve and Lynne (Aztec Dream) and Pattie and James from another OCC boat called La Adventura. We had a brief tour around the outskirts of the town of Rio Dulces after a lunch at a small restaurant. We saw all the other marinas in the area, a castle, boat repair shops, et cetera.
There's also a quarter-mile-long bridge (Puente Rio Dulce) that goes across the river.
The town is that sort of town you'd expect to see in South America, with stray dogs roaming the streets, noisy trucks, narrow roads, lively crowds, street stalls selling sliced local fruits like pineapples and watermelon... you get the idea. It's not exactly eye-catching, but it's definitely got character.
The rest of Rio Dulce is beautiful. The other week, Livin' Life and Slow Flight arrived in Guatemala, and together we took our dog Sky on a short hike through the jungle up to a Shamen Tower. The walk was beautiful, with the sort of scenery you'd expect to find in an Indiana Jones film - y'know, with the jungle setting and sweltering heat (none of us were wearing wide-brimmed hats, though, which kinda ruined the effect). Heck, there was even a huge rope bridge to walk across - several feet above ground. Sky was literally petrified, her legs stretched out as she crept along like a spider. Poor love.
And the view from the top of the tower - wow, oh wow! Lush green jungle all around us, a vast mountain disappearing into the clouds in the distance, and Rio Dulces shimmering green below us. Sky was dying to have a look (we all congratulated her when she managed to climb the ladder all the way to the top of the tower - I'm sure she must've hated us all after that. 😂), but the wall was too tall for her to peep over, poor girl.
I bet you're all thinking Sky had a pretty bad walk from all she had to go through - but that's not the end of it. On the way back, we stopped off at a natural pool to cool down. And cool down we did - hard core. The water was freezing! It was pretty obvious it was in the shade twenty-four hours a day - the pool at The marina was often in the sun so the water was generally pretty warm. We decided to try and encourage Sky to have a dip, but she point-blank refused. The weird thing about Sky is that she's scared stiff of being in the water - which isn't exactly the kind of fear you want when you live on a boat. That's why we're trying to help her overcome her fear. When she refused, Paul just popped her in. Now, don't call this animal cruelty! How's she going to overcome her fears if she doesn't experience them? It didn't work, though. The moment she was in the water, she was out again, shaking her fur dry and sulking.
Nah. I think she did enjoy herself for the majority of the walk. That was a nice long morning walk for her, so she was out for the rest of the day.
A little way from us is a large grassy field, with a castle called San Felipe on the river bank of that field. We packed up some food and joined Livin' Life, Slow Flight, Aztec Dream and La Adventura for a picnic (no Sky this time, though 😭). James and Pattie (La Adventura) didn't arrive until a little later. While Paul, Dave, Steve and Chi all went for a hike, Mum, Janice and I explored the castle.
It wasn't the biggest castle in the world, and it was difficult to distinguish room from room, since they were all bare. Still, it was fun exploring the castle and finding passages here and there. I hope I got some decent pictures.
So, there you are. You're now up to date with what's been happening.
We'll be in Guatemala for six months, so you'll be able to expect a lot about it - including a bit about kayaking soon! :D
See you soon! ;)
05 July 2017
We did end up going to the Cayman Islands in the end.
The passage from Providencia to Gran Cayman went smoothly, thankfully. We were glad to get back to still waters when we finally got to Gran Cayman, meeting up with our three buddy boats: Slow Flight, Livin' Life and Vidorra.
Well, okay. Almost still waters. Georgetown Anchorage was incredibly choppy, so our boat may as well have been anchored out in the midway mark between Providencia and Gran Cayman. We were eager to get off the boat, so we took the dinghy ashore and had a look around a bit of the city.
It wasn't a long look - just getting some money, a SIM card and a bite to eat.
But we quickly saw how developed it was in comparison to most of the places we've been to recently. It seemed almost... futuristic to us. With tower blocks and restaurant chains and all the food you get back in England. You could tell some serious dosh was spent on the place if you came here from Providencia. Not so much if you flew in from England. The Cayman Islands are British-owned countries (so they have the Union Jack in the corner of their flag), so you could find a lot of British stuff in it. We stocked up a great deal while we were there. We even got rhubarb, a big treat to us since this is the first time in over a year since we had it. So as I speak, one of Paul's delicious rhubarb crumbles are cooking in the oven.
I spent a morning with Lauren, Bruce and Luke of Vidorra on the beach - along with their older son, Sam, and his girlfriend, Carly, who were visiting from the States. The beach was actually really nice (coming from someone who doesn't really care for beaches), and it even came with a (freezing cold) pool and bubbling hot tub (which actually feels nice after being in the pool, despite the boiling hot sun otherwise). Luke and I ran around like crazy kids and he eventually wound down. We went to the other end of the beach to see the guys kitesurfing afterwards.
Now, what I'm partial to is a good, large, English-language bookstore. Even if I'm not buying anything, I like to look around at the different mystery books and horror and especially the Young Adult section. To my glee, there were two bookshops not far from the anchorage we'd newly anchored in (which is not choppy, but the water's mucky and filled with jellyfish, so we can't swim). So after we got a car, I was looking forward to going to Books & Books.
We first went to a wine-tasting place with Janice of Livin' Life and her mum, who was visiting. The shop consisted of at least fifty different wines from all different countries around the world - mostly France. All of them were up for tasting, as long as you had a bit of money on you. My mum, Janice and her mum enjoyed plenty of different flavours, but as a responsible fourteen-year-old, I didn't have a drop.
Okay. Maybe that's a tiny lie. I had a few sips of a dessert wine and a few whites, but only a few sips.
Books & Books was an enormous bookshop. I could've spent a day in there. I got a couple of books in the end, and a drawing pad - something I've wanted for a while.
The books I got, however, weren't quite the ones that I wanted. I was mostly looking for the first book of the Roy Grace series (yeah, I know I was just going on about being a responsible fourteen-year-old and then I talk about a thriller crime fiction series, but I still think Peter James is a seriously cool author), as well as the Throne of Glass (after reading The Assassin's Blade, I was eager to read more of the series) and Land of Stories: Beyond the Kingdoms (the fourth book of the Land of Stories series, which I was really enjoying). None of these were in Books & Books. However, Mum took me to The Book Nook a couple of days before we left Gran Cayman (this isn't the end of the blog post yet, by the way), and although there wasn't any Peter James books - sadly - I did find the other two. So I've been a happy bunny reading them.
A few days before that, we all went for a ride on Livin' Life to a tourist spot called Stingray City. The "city" was a patch of sand allowing us to stand waist-deep in the water, with trumpetfish and - you guessed it - stingray all over. A charter boat with about ten or twenty people was already there, so the place was pretty crowded, as we saw when Livin' Life's anchor was dropped a few yards away and the dinghy was taken over to the "city". Still, that didn't stop us from having a great time walking around in amongst the rays. They barely paid any attention to us whatsoever, since we had no food with us (stingrays don't generally eat humans, thank goodness). So later on we cut up some raw fish freshly caught by Janice, Dave and Steve, and took it back over to the "city". And I can honestly say that I was scared stiff with all the stingrays surrounding us like sheep in a pen. Each time one came close to me I was convinced its stinging tail was gonna brush against my leg or I was gonna step on it. Dave even got a lovebite (a hickey to you Americans) from one of them.
But we didn't get it as bad as Steve's sister, who went a little later than us. We didn't see what happened, but apparently she was the only one who went in with food, and was mobbed by the stingray. One even pushed her from behind, so the other guys had to help her. Not a nice thing to happen to anyone.
Our time in Gran Cayman was great, and it was a shame to leave, especially since we were parting ways with Livin' Life, Slow Flight and Vidorra. Hopefully we'll see them in Guatemala!
We're now heading to Guatemala with Aztec Dream! See you there!