The Drunken Horse Race of Todos Santos

Todos Santos Cuchumatan is a small town (or a large village, depending on your point of view) nestled high up in the Cuchumatanes mountain range of western Guatemala, near the Mexican border. It’s a simple place – one bank (with one ATM), a handful of basic hotels, and a few even more basic restaurants. And at an altitude of 2,500 metres, it can get cold, cloudy, and rainy at any time of year. The streets off the main road are dirt (or mud, after it rains), and everything’s shut by 9pm. Continue reading

Studying Spanish in Guatemala

For the last month, I´ve been learning Spanish in Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), Guatemala´s second city. Normally, when I travel, my routine is to visit a new place, see the sites, and then move on – so staying put for more than a week is something new for me. And normally, I come home with a camera memory card full of photos, the fading remains of a tan that I hoped would last but knew wouldn´t, and a liverful of the local alcohol – so coming back with a new language is another new experience for me. But the two things that I took away from my experiences on my hike in the Ixil region last month are: 1) don´t trek in the rainy season, and 2) learn some Spanish. Continue reading

Hiking in the Guatemalan Highlands

Guatemala may be only the size of England, but it has a huge variety of landscapes, from black volcanic beaches to flat, endless vistas of palm trees and banana plantations, to numerous caves, rivers, and lakes, to vast jungles full of Maya ruins and exotic animals. It’s also the most mountainous country in Central America, containing 30 volcanoes and the highest peaks between Mexico and Columbia. Continue reading

Maya Ruins of Mexico

If there’s one other thing I’ve been doing in Mexico, apart from cooling off in the lovely cenotes, it’s working up a sweat wandering round the many Maya ruins. I thought Belize was well-represented in that department, having been to six of them (including the two biggest, Caracol and Lamanai). But Mexico has about ten major ruins, and tens of smaller sites. Continue reading

The Cenotes of the Yucatán

The Yucatán Peninsula is the area of Central America that juts out into the water like a big fat thumb, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico (most of it’s in Mexico, but it also includes parts of northern Belize and northern Guatemala).  The Belizean and Guatemalan parts are mostly low-lying jungle; and the Mexican part is equally flat, equally hot, and comprised mainly of limestone.  This soft rock is so porous that the abundant rainwater drains straight through it, and as a consequence there are no surface rivers in this part of the country.  But what there are plenty of is sinkholes, known locally as cenotes (from a Maya word dzonot, meaning sacred well).  The Peninsula is pockmarked with thousands of them, and they range in size and shape – while some are open water pools at the bottom of circular limestone holes, most are mainly or completely underground, accessed by small holes in the ground or twisting cave passages.  In this flat landscape, the only thing that rises above the forest and the plains are the giant temple-pyramids built by the ancient Maya, and it was probably the numerous cenotes and their fresh water that allowed the Maya cities to survive and grow. Continue reading

Food of the Gods

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Belizean food. But I didn’t mention all the delicious sweet things that the country produces – from Black Cakes to Coconut Tarts to Rice Puddings to Tres Leches (Three Milks) Cakes. And with most of these desserts packed full of sugar and soaked in evaporated or condensed milk, their sweet deliciousness is only matched by their sugary and fatty unhealthiness. Wash that lot down with a bottle of Coke and ponder why 60% the locals are overweight and 15% have diabetes… Continue reading