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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Antigua, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala (via Belize)

When our mother's long term friend caught wind that we would be visiting Antigua she wasted no time in offering us her house. As we got closer to the city and the details of the arrangement began to surface we knew we were in for something very, very special. However, the rumors did not come close to doing our experience justice.

When we arrived in the city we were welcomed by the house manager, Denis and his wife, Jazmin. The two did everything to make us feel right at home. Fracesca, arrived on the second day and prepared our absolutely phenomenal meals. We were so spoiled during our week in Antigua that I'm almost embarrassed to report on our temporary life of luxury. The juxtaposition of our life day to day never ceases to amaze. One day we will be looking for solace in a road side ditch and the next we will be in five star accommodations with a personal cook. I am so humbled and thankful for these displays of generosity.

On our first morning in Antigua over a breakfast prepared by Francesca the three of us casually mentioned to Denis that we all love a good cup of coffee and the next thing we knew we were whisked off, touring the areas most renowned coffee plantations and processing centers. Denis blew us away with his coffee knowledge and provided us with an amazingly informative trip. We got the full back-of- the-house tour, where we were able to see the process from start to finish and talk to some of the employees.

Months ago when our friend Peter mentioned that we should meet up with his parents in Guatemala City for their new restaurant grand opening, I was sceptical that the stars would align once again and put us in Guatemala City at the exact same time as the opening; however, both Parker and I remained optimistic. Sure enough, our timing worked out awesomely and we found ourselves enjoying dinner at Tres Fratelli in Guatemala City with Peter and Anna discussing the following days grand opening.

We attended the grand opening for Frisco Grill. The private party was held for family and friends and we felt honored to be included among the crowd. It was absolutely surreal to sit in a restaurant in Guatemala City and to be surrounded by photographs and memorabilia depicting our hometown. The ambiance and food were both nostalgic not to mention excellent! That night we met one of the restaurant owners who casually told us that he would be setting up an interview with one of the biggest stations in Guatemala for the following morning.

The next morning we woke early to meet Peter and Anna who planned to accompany us to the interview. As if it wasn't enough that Peter and Anna had a restaurant opening to contend with they both decided to support and transport us to the interview. Anna even stood in as our translator to make sure we did not blunder on any of the questions.

Despite the fact that Peter had chosen not to advertise the opening of Frisco Grill we returned to the restaurant after the interview to find a packed house. Apparently the word had gotten out that the brainchild of the Guatemalan favorite, Tres Fratelli had something else up his sleeve. Before we could say our good-byes Anna told us that she would be contacting all of her friends through Central America in order to set up places for us to stay. How did we get so fortunate?

During one of our days in Guatemala City we traveled down to old town in Zone 1 to check out some of the historical buildings.  The highlight of this trip was watching Chris purchase a cup of milk from a goat hearder in the middle of the city that proceeded to milk one of his heard and hand Chris a cup of fresh warm goat's milk.  Chris enjoyed this so much that he ordered another cup.

Before catching the bus to Puerto Barrios we even caught our segment on the news, which apparently aired a number of times over the next week. Puerto Barrios is somewhere you definitely don't want to spend anytime and the only thing notable about this town is that it provided us with our worst hotel room to date. I'd say the blood handprints on the wall were a good indication of the quality of the establishment.

The trip to Puerto Barrios was uneventful and reminded us how much we have grown to love our bikes and the slow mode of travel they provide. Riding by bus, completely separates you from the environment and the trip becomes more about the destinations rather than the journey. I felt kind of like a Fed Ex Package. Unfortunately, our boating and rafting plans in Belize made bringing our bikes extremely undesirable. Our experiences on some of the small boats made us thankful that we decided to leave our monsters behind.

Tarpon Caye Lodge

Parker and I have blundered into so many things that have worked out so well in the end that it has left me suspicious that there aren't as many accidents in life as there appear to be. It's tantalizing to think that we have ended up exactly where we were supposed to be. Our trip to Tarpon Caye Lodge had us both feeling like we ended up in exactly the right place.

We met Charlie the in the late morning in Placencia and joined him for the hour boat ride out to his private Caye, appropriately named Tarpon Caye. Once on the island we had a few minutes to look around and get settled before we started to rig up our rods for an afternoon session on the water. It was immediately apparent to both of us that we were in for something special. Maybe it was Charlie's wisdom and personality, maybe it was the fact that we had our own private island, maybe it was the fact that we were choicely positioned in some of the best flats waters in the Carribean or maybe it was a combination of all these that made us confident that our stay would be memorable.

Any scepticism about the presence of tarpon was dismissed in the first hour an a half when Parker and I hooked into two and landed one beautiful fish. We were even able to capture some amazing Tarpon aerials on film. Did I mention that we were a two minute boat ride from our room?

That evening we let the Tarpon rest and went in search of permit. Within the fist hour we were casting to our first fish. We had some excellent shots at these fish but we both went to bed that evening thinking we could've made better casts. Casting to permit is like taking a freethrow to win the game with one second on the clock. The pressure is always on, you have one shot and if you miss your chance you replay the scenario over in your head a thousand times. God it is addicting.

The next day we woke early to hit the flats while the tides were coming in. Within the first hour or so, I had hooked into and landed my first permit. It was no world record fish but one of the most satisfying fishing experience of me life. The permit photo was featured as Pic Of The Day on Wild On The Fly’s website, No more than a half hour later Parker hooked into an even better fish that screamed off line until it was able to wrap the leader around some coral and break the leader. If there is anything more frustrating than blowing a cast, it is breaking of a nice fish after you have done everything else correctly.

Shortly thereafter, Charlie looked at his watch and realized that I still had time to obtain the infamous “grand slam.” So within a few minutes we were off to track down the only fish that had alluded us so far...the bonefish. True to form, Charlie had us on a huge school of fish within about a half hour and next thing I knew I was watching a bonefish pick my fly up off the sand.

Our fishing techniques are inventive and sometimes unorthodox but I'm pretty sure I blew the staff away when I swam out to the edge of a drop off, fully clothed with fly rod in hand to dislodge a snapper that had gotten wrapped around some coral. I was also able to employ a new technique of using my sunglasses as goggles by just submerging the lenses. Sometimes I surprise myself with my own genius. Chris almost wet himself when Marlin pulled the boat up alongside me and they realized that I was treading water.

The night before our third and final day of fishing a powerful cold front rolled over the Caye. We again went in search of permit early in the day but despite our efforts we were not able to hook into any fish. That's not to say we did not have plenty of chances. We had the opportunity to watch numerous permit approach our flies..literally touch them with their noses and then turn away, every time trying to stay relaxed enough to control our bodies from trembling in anticipation. We had to turn back to the Caye when the tide rolled in enough so that we could no longer track the permit tails.

We changed up our rods for heavier setups and headed back to chase Tarpon in the cove in front of the island. With only about an hour left to fish, my skepticism started to creep in about the possibility of hooking another silver monster. With just three minutes left in his turn (Parker and I were taking 30 min turns) Parker strip set into one hell of a fish that immediately started performing aerial acrobatics. Watching the video still gives me shivers. Even after over an hour and a half the fish was still jumping. Parker finally brought the fish up alongside the boat after nearly an hour and forty minutes. After a quick photo we released the fish. Absolutely awesome finale to a perfect trip. Our first and last hours at Tarpon Caye were spent landing tarpon.

We can't thank everyone at Tarpon Caye enough for their generosity in sponsoring our trip. As we told the staff, we will absolutely be back to create more memories with these awesome people. I've guided and been guided by dozens of people and Charlie is one of the best.

We returned from Tarpon Caye, to Placencia in order to meet our favorite ladies. Eliza, Liana and our awesome mother made the trip all the way from the states to spend 8 days with us. After a harrowing night drive through the dirt roads of Belize the ladies arrived in Placencia unscathed. To celebrate this special occasion we rented a four bedroom villa on the lagoon in Placencia complete with a roof top pool. The house provided a perfect place to relax and drink mom's infamous Mai Thais (Mighty Thais) in preparation of our pending action packed adventures.

We departed Placencia and made the beautiful trek to Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Lodge where we had arranged a room for a night and a river tubing trip through a 7 mile cave. We arrived at the fairytale lodge in the mid afternoon with just enough time to explore the immediate jungle and cascading pool.

The next day marks a new trip highlight. The tubing trip absolutely exceeded our expectations and the caves were more majestic (not a word I typically throw around) and beautiful than I had imagined. The pictures do a decent job of translating the awesomeness of the caves, light, water, and the contrast of the creeping jungle at every opening.

From caves branch we headed directly for El Remate, Guatemala where we set up camp for the following days trip to Tikal. I won't spend too much time describing the ruins because I am sure someone else has already done it better and because this is something I think everyone should see for themselves. I'm not sure you could even over hype Tikal because no description can prepare you for the feeling you get when you first arrive at the base of these massive structures set among such dense jungle.

From Tikal we spent the afternoon in Flores, Guatemala and enjoyed some cocktails while watching the sunset on Lake Peten Itza.

We awoke early the next morning in order to make the trek back to Belize City. We accompanied the ladies to the airport where we said our goodbyes and then jumped a boat to Caye Caulker where we reunited with Chris. Unfortunately, we were unable to find him and the hostel he was staying at was full. After searching many of the remaining hotels and hostels we finally found a place with vacancy and got some much needed rest. The next day we explored the island and headed out to find a fly shop that supposedly existed to get some info on fishing the area. The fly shop was closed but we did find Chris sitting on a bench waiting for us as he knew we would eventually show up. We returned to the shop multiple times before we left Caulker but the shop was never open. Caye Caulker is a very mellow island that was a great place to hang out before heading back to Plecencia via sailboat.

We decided to use a tour company called Raggamuffin which runs a 2 night and 3 day sailboat tour from Caye Caulker to Plecencia stopping at 2 remote cayes. We were very excited to get back on the water and do some fishing and snorkeling on some very beautiful reefs. The idea of the tour as well as the places that we stopped was excellent and we had a great time hanging out with the other people on the trip. The only negative aspect was the crew who ran the trip like a elementary school summer camp. The captain had one of the worst cases of “small man's complex” I have ever seen. The very first day Seth and I got scolded like we were 8 years old for snorkeling too long and venturing too far from the boat. We were hoping that guy was just having a bad day but it soon became apparent that he needed to be the center of attention and have full control of everyone on the trip at all times. We were very happy to arrive at Rendezvous Caye where we would camp for our first night and have some time to ourselves. We would not be so lucky as the captain decided he would tell stories and jokes around the campfire for hours on end. Unfortunately, the caye was so small that we could not escape the sound of his voice without the help of our new friend and one of my favorite people that we have met thus far on our trip, Sir Alrich. Alrich is the keeper, the emperor, and king of Rendezvous Caye and lives in his “mansion” by himself for months at a time. His “mansion” is a small concrete and plywood room that has everything he needs to survive including a stove, a bed, and a single 50 watt light that runs off of a car battery.

As we approached the island we could see that there was someone walking around who quickly disappeared. When I inquired about the figure to the captain and his crew they assured me that the caretaker of the island was antisocial and that he would not want to talk to us. Once again the captain could not be more wrong. When I saw the same character immerge from his dwelling later in the evening I decided to test their judgement and approach the man myself.

Within minutes Parker and I were in a full blown conversation with Alrich and next thing we knew we were being invited back to his “mansion.” During his MTV cribs style tour of the place, Alrich made a point to show us his water bottles full of rum, his 50 watt light bulb, his grill made from an old propane tank, his FM radio, his bed that also acted as his dresser, and his depleted pot stash of which he says he goes through about ½ pound a month. The guy was nothing short of amazing. If that wasn't enough, Alrich let us in on the fact that he has “smashed” exactly “two hundred and terty seven” women. Never mind the fact that he is only 20 years old! When we asked him how he accomplished such a feat he let us in on his little secret.

So here it is... when you are in a club or bar and there are a number of girls around you not paying heed simply expose some money from your pocket and scratch it in order to create a sort of money arroma. When the girls smell and see the money they won't be able to resist and “the bitches will come runnin.” If it gets really bad you may even be “fighting those bitches off.” I'd say it's only a matter of time before Alrich lands his TV show.

When a huge yacht pulled up next to the island the following day and dropped of some spedo clad euro divers from Monaco, Parker, Alrich and I approached the driver of the 30' transportation skiff. The deckhand could not talk about his current employer but informed us that he used to work on Paul Allen's 450' yach and that when the fuel tanks went empty it cost over a million US dollars to fill them up again. To this Alrich exclaimed “Paul Allen mus make like ten times my salary.”

Before leaving Alrich gave us some more insight into his life and his daily activities. He usually dives off the west side of the island for conch and lobster which he stockpiles for weeks of consumption. It is not everyday you meet someone who says they are sick and tired of eating to much lobster. He also introduced us to all of his friends on the island including his flock of sandpipers which he knows each one by name as well as his arch nemesis, Larry. Larry is a hawk that Alrich said he used to be cool with until Larry swooped down and stole a a snapper that he had caught which was all spiced up and curing in the sun. He looked the hawk directly in the eyes and said “You know what you done Larry. I'm gonna get you for that shit.”

Please know that the opinions expressed here are not those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect reflect the positions of anyone besides Sir Alrich. These details have been included only to paint an accurate picture.

It was tough to part ways with our new found friend and get back on an overcrowded sailboat with our bad vibe producing captain but alas we had no choice. Later that afternoon as we approached our snorkeling spot and the sailboat engine gave out one last cough before finally crapping out altogether. This wouldn't be much of an issue on a short journey but the Raggamuffins rely on the help of the engine to make the voyage to Placencia in three days. Trying to maintain his composure our captain assured us that a mechanic would be visiting our boat that night to make the necessary repairs. Given our remoteness, we had our doubts.

The next morning we awoke to find a large crowd on the boat messing with the engine and making quite a fuss as to what should be done. It is important to note here that the mechanic could not be located the previous night which is quite odd on an island the size of a city square block. It wasn't like the guy had gone to the movies or out for a drive. When we approached the boat we could see that that the mechanic was so drunk that he could barely form words had to hold onto the tiller at all times as not to fall in the water. What's more is that he was still drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette directly over the oil and gasoline soaked engine. The seen was truly priceless. Needless to say the engine was not fixed and we departed a few hours late with only the use of the sails.

The captain informed us that because we could not use the motor we would be skipping the snorkeling trip that day in order to make it to Plecencia before night. As much as it sucked to miss the snorkeling it was very nice to be sailing without the noise of the small outboard. It was not until late into the afternoon that one of the crew started to make lunch which took close to an hour and a half to prepare tuna fish sandwiches. It was during this time that Josh, another client on the trip who had a few run-ins with the captain, asked the crew if maybe they should put up the other sail. I thought the captain was going to throw him overboard. Later when all 16 of us were informed by the captain to sit below deck in the cabin, I mentioned that it looked like one of the Florida bound Cuban boats you see on the news. Josh replied, “Yeah but they usually have much nicer boats and I hear the food is way better.” As you can imagine the captain was thrilled with this comment.

We finally arrived in Plecencia and said our teary goodbyes to the Raggamuffin crew and found a spot to get a good nights rest before our long day of traveling back to Antigua the following day. We caught the first water taxi the next morning at 6:30AM and did not arrive in Antigua until 11:30PM. The day included 2 boat trips and 4 buses including one broken down bus before we finally arrived in Antigua. It was to late to contact Dennis that night so we stayed in a hostel and hooked up with Denis the next day at Anne's Guatemalan palace. I repaired my wheel and we are ready to take off today for El Salvador. While I was searching for a shop to build my wheel I learned of a girl that just started cycling in Guatemala and was desperately looking for some cyclist to travel with as her partner fell in love with a mechanic in northern Guatemala and decided to go no further. So we are happy to welcome Tracy who will be riding with us for unknown amount of time.


Joanna said...

Hostels are probably the very cheapest place you can stay during your travels.

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Hoteles En Cordoba said...

wow! you catch a big fish there. i'm sure you had a great and memorable experience out there.

Mallorca yacht charter said...

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