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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for Accommodation

Litchfield vs Kakadu

The relative pros of Litchfield vs the cons of Kakadu National Parks seems to be an ongoing discussion between travellers to the Top End of Australia, with the oft quoted “Litchfield do, Kaka-don’t”. I’m not sure where this stems from, and now that I have visited both of the national parks, I feel inclined to add my own humble(!) opinions.

Firstly, I think that the two parks, although close to each other, are too different to compare in terms of the scenery that they have to offer - Kakadu has some amazing rock formations, some very interesting aboriginal rock art and a variety of different ecosystems - from sand dunes to waterfalls to forests (we didn’t have a 4WD so didn’t get to the main waterfall attractions), oh and lots of crocodiles (and flies, lots of flies)

On the other hand, Litchfield seems to be most popular for its waterfalls and pools that offer (mainly) croc-free cooling swims. Unfortunately we wished we’d paid more heed to the guide book when it said to avoid Litchfield at weekends - it was heaving with beer drinking, loud music playing Darwinians, hmmm not really our cup of tea. We managed to get in a couple of early swims on the Sunday morning before the crowds arrived though, phew!

We enjoyed both places, for the different reasons listed and found the main distinguishing features between them to be the quality of the campsites - Litchfield is more expensive, yet lower quality - no hot water (not that it’s really needed), no lighting, and in some cases no showers at all - only toilets, yet you still have to pay $6.60 EACH (~3 pounds), as opposed to free (if there’s only toilets) or $5.40 in Kakadu. Hrmph. In Katherine, where we are at the moment, it is even more expensive, and with even less quality facilities - I don’t understand these disparities, why can’t we just camp for free? In fact that is our next mission - to find a place we can stay for nothing - we have our lovely solar shower and a trowel, what more do we need?!

Australia

After a couple of long flights and several chapters of Harry Potter (yes, I have finally got hold of it, and no, I haven’t finished it yet, so no spoilers!), we finally touched down in Brisbane, Australia.

We spent our first day sorting our lives out in the big city (although still no hair cuts), and cuddling koala bears at Lone Pine Koala sanctuary - very cute. We also got to feed some Kangaroos and Wallabies.

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Our next stop was Binna Burra lodge in Lammington National Park south of Brisbane where we spent a lovely two and a half days bushwalking and learning the joys of BBQs. Chris saw lots of new birds, and even I took to a bit of bird watching. We stayed in a ‘Safari tent’ - a tent with double bed in it - a great idea!

The forest was lovely and there was a fantastic network of paths built so that you never have to walk up a steep gradient. It was cool (~14 degrees) - a very agreeable temperature - in the morning and evening we unpacked our hats and gloves for the first time! At night whilst we were barbecuing our tea, possums and bandicoots came and said hello.

We are now in the Top End of Australia - in Darwin. Tomorrow we pick up a camper van and head off to the middle of the country, so over the next few weeks we may only be occasionally in touch….

Where´s me jumper?

In keeping with our alternate day visits to Mayan ruins we visited the site of Palenque - this is probably one of the best ruins we have been too - it is surrounded by jungle and unlike all the huge towering temple of Tikal and others, there was more evidence of places where people actually lived - it seemed easier to imagine it as a city. There was also a lot of it that as yet has not been reconstructed and so more easily meets the vision of what you might imagine as ruins as the moss covered stones blend in with the trees that have grown through the buildings. All very pretty.

After a disappointing night in the town of Palenque, we decided to catch the next bus out of town and head for San Cristobal de Las Casas, 5 hours away. Luckily chicken buses have been replaced by posh coaches in Mexico and we were treated to the most comfortable seats we have had for the past four months, they were reclining and everything. The air conditioning was a pleasant relief from the heat of Palenque, although after a couple of hours, we began to get a bit chilly and were looking forward to the warmth that would hit as we stepped off the bus at our destination. We somewhat surprised when we arrived to find little difference in temperature between the bus and the evening air (which was possibly slightly colder) - at an altitude of 2140m San Cristobal is actually rather cold at night and in the mornings (although still hot when the sun appears). Luckily the walk with our big bags in search of a hotel warmed us up.

San Cristobal has turned out to be a lovely place - its centre consists of colonial spanish buildings which are very pretty and it has a very European, coffee culture feel - very relaxing, until you get hassled by small children selling pottery animals that is. We are also treating ourselves to a rather posh hotel (although it´s still only 11 pounds a night). Lovely.

Places we don´t like in Central America

At our last stop in Belize we met an American chap who was amused to listen to Fiona´s positive reviews of all the places we have visited. He exclaimed “Oh come on! There must be somewhere you didn´t like!”, so in response here is a list of the worst places we have visted:

  • The Mexican/Guatemalan border near Tapachula - rather like a James Bond arms bazaar.
  • Lake Yojoa, Honduras - not all it´s cracked up to be. Impossible to explore without a vehicle. D&D´s gave us D&V.
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras - a big horrible city.
  • Palenque (the town, not ruins), Mexico - a small town with no redeeming features.
  • Santa Elaena, Guatemala - A terrible place. Kids threw soil at us. Little sh*ts.
  • Puerto Cortes, Honduras - nothing to detain the tourist and unreliable/unsafe boat services to Belize (Puerto Barrios/Livingston is a much better route). It´s only redeeming feature is a cinema.

Curiously there was nowhere in Belize we didn´t like. It´s a lovely country. We didn´t spend any time in Belize City, but from the bus it didn´t look too bad at all.

A surprising find

We stopped for a couple of nights at a very agreeable establishment called Trekstop which is close to the town of San Jose Succotz, next to the border with Guatemala. Our accomodation was a bit like a large garden shed in a forest, but with a composting toilet ensuite and a butterfly house in the garden.

There were plenty birdies about the site so I happiliy wandered down a track - at the end I looked behind me and was suprised by a huge Mayan construction dominating the skyline. Now, we knew it was nearby, but our guidebook had not alluded to the fact that it was so impressive.

To get to Xunantunich we crossed a river on a rickity, old, hand-cranked ferry (a truck wheel is an integral part of the mechanism). The ferry would take  one small car at a time, but nothing bigger for fear of the cables snapping as the river was in spate.

The ruins were great - small enough to get round in a relaxing hour or two, and impressive enough to amaze us. From the top of the temple on the skyline we could see for miles eastward though Belize and miles westwards into Guatemala.

On the way home we enjoyed a bunch of Collared Aracari´s - a type of toucan - eating fruit in a tree.

We lunched at the Xunantunich Inn and Fiona would like to commend them for their first-class veggie burritos and keeping us dry whilst it rained.

Hammock swinging on the beach

We’re on Caye Caulker - we couldn’t keep away from the seaside for long. It’s a very peaceful place with no cars, just golf carts, and lots of palms. We’re staying in a shack right on the beach, with two hammocks slung between coconut trees just outside (but carefully, so that a nut can’t fall on your head).

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We bumped into Aussie John from Opwall yesterday and had a fine time with him. Tomorrow we are going snorkeling on the second biggest barrier reef in the world.

Mad women, premonitions and manatees

Upon finding ourselves unexpectedly in a different part of Belize we mulled over our options in a spartan yet perfectly acceptable Chinese restaurant in Dangriga. The guidebook, coupled with a look around town indicated nothing to detain the passing tourist there, so we made haste to the bus staion to correct the offset in our intended location of the day.

We took the bus southwards to Placencia where we met an American woman who suggested to us that we might like to stop at the town of Hopkins en route - it indeed sounded interesting, and she seemed a little batty, but nice enough, and conveniently had a place for us to stay on the beach.

Hopkins was lovely - a very relaxed little Garifuna town on a long sandy beach. Our accomodation was fine, if rather eccentric and the owner cooked for us, which was great.

The only downside was that our host talked at us incessantly. Utterly non-stop. She didn’t converse, she just rambled endlessly, mostly about her misfortunes. It was rather tiresome at first, but provided amusment after a while.

On our last morning we had tentatively planned to take an inflatable kayak into a nearby mangrove lagoon. It didn’t look a very sturdy craft so I had slight reservations about paddling through crocodile infested waters in it, but when both Fe and I dreamt about being eaten by crocodiles we wimped out.

It was a fine still morning, so I sat on the beach and watched the sea. After some time had passed some curious lokking black lumps surfaced 100 metres offshore - manatees - the leviathan of the mangroves! We finally succumbed to the crappy kayak and paddled out to say hello (manatees are herbivores and whilst they may be able to suck us to death, I think it unlikely).

We were treated to little ugly heads bobbing up around us, blowing lightly as they surface, then fine views of their big rounded backs as they rolled, and occasionally their great big single flippered tail would pop up.

The boat was indeed a piece of junk, but who cares? We paddled with manatees!

Hurricane Felix is coming

As you will see from our little map, we are on the small island of Utila in the Caribbean Sea. Hurricane Felix, currently a category 5 hurricane, is forecast to come our way early on Wednesday morning. Yesterday it was forecast to hit us dead on but it looks like it will hit the Nicaraguan coast first - this is good for us, but bad for Nicaragua.

We have a great place to stay, owned by Germans, which is high up the hill, and in a sheltered valley, so we´re going to close the shutters and enjoy our books.

More news when the internet is fixed after the storm (might take a while)!

Belizean bletherings

We went to Punta Gorda, the southernmost ´town´in Belize to spend our requisite three days renewing our visas. On arrival we were slightly put out to find most of the town´s accomodation had been taken over by a group which turned out to be a meeting of all the village leaders from the whole country (”And there´s a lot of villages” as I was told by the the fifth hotel we tried!). This meeting even made the national radio news, as did the results of Punta Gorda´s beauty Pageant which also went on over the weekend we were there - it´s a happening place it would seem, except on a Sunday, when we had to risk eating lunch at a street vendor due to a distinct lack of choice. It turned out to be very nice food, and no d&v resulted, phew! ANyway, we finally found some very nice accomodation, complete with hot water (which came out of the cold tap and turned out to be surplus to requirements as it was so hot outside!)

On our first morning we decided to get up super early (5am) and go kayaking up a nearby river. Unfortunately our early start was slightly curtailed by a lack of keys to get to the kayaks, but a man soon turned up to sort us out and then we were on our way, paddling slowly up river (in only a vaguely straight line). Some of the course got very narrow as we were obstructed by fallen logs and some rocks, but it was all good fun. We saw lots of crabs scuttling up mangrove roots, four different types of heron, and the highlight - a couple of otters - one of which kept sticking its head out of the water and ´shouting´at us - it then went to get its bigger buddy and they both ran along the bank alongside me - I was actually slightly perturbed in case they came and started eating my kayak, unlikely I know, but it was a bit creepy in those parts! We also saw an iguana-like lizard which was very cool too!

After such an active morning we were relaxing on our balcony for the afternoon when we spotted a couple of our OpWall pals - Julie and Bex - who were also doing the visa run. We spent the next day with them and visited some Mayan ruins (one of only two main sites in Belize). It was a much quieter place than our previous experience of Copan - in fact we were the only people there. Oh and I´d like to mention Julie as the one person who seems to take delight in my accent, and, I quote “wants to speak like me”! She is Swiss, so not sure if that explains it at all?!

After an afternoon swim in the dubious sea (there was lots of floating scum), and a pleasant evening introducing Julie and Bex to the local weirdo (there seems to be one in every town recently - this one made a loud yell every 5 minutes and danced as cars went past), we said our sad goodbyes to them and set off for the ferry the next morning.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we had a nice break from struggling with our rubbish Spanish as thankfully the Belizean national language is English, lovely!

El Paraiso

For our last week with OpWall we treated ourselves to a trip to the coast, staying in a very posh hotel that was taken over by us lot for the week - it was a lovely little place, newly done up, with swimming pool, idyllic Caribbean views and hanging beds in the garden (oh and hot showers and laundry). All was pretty much perfect, with the exception of having to entertain some spoilt, cotton-wool covered public school kids (who happily slated us staff in their reviews, so this is just revenge!). They weren´t even excited when Smammal Sarah caught an Opossum, or when Chris showed them some Hummingbirds and Woodpeckers, hrmph.

So, enough of them. The food was another change at this ´camp´ - it was delicious, although not very timely and in quite small quantities (didn´t bother me, but the others were left feeling unsatisfied). We managed to supplement the meagre portions with mangoes and coconuts that were kind enough to drop from nearby trees. We also made the very exciting discovery of chocobananas - frozen banana halves on a stick, covered in chocolate - delicious, satisfying, vaguely healthy and very cheap (1 Lempira each = 4p!!!). Will definitely have to give these a go on our return home.

Oh, and the other excitement of this ´paradise´was a long distance viewing of some Manatees that lazily surfaced every now and again from a distant shore. Lovely.

Unfortunately we had to return to base camp for a couple of days before finally leaving OpWall and the forest behind, although having said that it was kind of nice to be back for the last few days, even if database duties got a bit hectic towards the end…

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