Showing posts with label honeymoon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label honeymoon. Show all posts

Monday, February 21, 2011

Honeymoon Redux II: Honduras

When I think of the Honduras, I can't help but think of this photo or one like it (from the Sydney Morning Herald years ago, who got it from Reuters). Look at that picture now and ask yourself:

"Which one of those two had a worse 2009?"


Traveling in the Honduras is a bit of a paradox: it's one of the most dangerous (if not the most dangerous) country in Central America, with a reputation for armed robberies even on luxury buses, a long tradition of carrying concealed and not-so-concealed weapons, a Caribbean coast overrun with drug runners and a capital city that every travel guide advises you to take taxis in rather than walk (some say it's OK to walk around in daylight, but none advise this at night).

And yet, for us, it was one of the easier countries to get through. We didn't stop much, though, considering the reputation of the place - we're not big fans of being robbed at gunpoint on our honeymoon.

To be fair, Honduras wasn't that unsafe. We went straight from Granada to Tegucigalpa in one day (that is one long bus ride, let me tell you) with a stopover in Jicaro Galan. We spent the rainy night in Tegucigalpa at Hotel Linda Vista - so chosen because it is in the more upscale neighborhood of Colonia Palmira - we didn't feel personally at risk there. Do book ahead if you want to stay there - you can call once you arrive in Central America.

We took the first overpriced taxi that appeared at the bus stop in Tegucigalpa - rainy, dark, and in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city (which is one of the most crime-ridden cities in the region). It cost $10 USD, but it was worth it for piece of mind.

The taxi was so ancient and rickety that it shook in odd places whenever we hit a pothole - both Brendan and I were convinced that it was going to start slowly falling apart, random pieces falling off down the road, and at the end the last wheel would give out and we'd be left standing in the street with the driver, confused but unhurt as a long trail of taxi parts littered the road behind us.

The next day we had breakfast and immediately boarded a Hedman Alas bus to Copan Ruinas near the Guatemalan border. The security check to board the bus was stricter than at most airports I've visited (and I've visited quite a few) - they checked two forms of ID, took our pictures and matched them to our name and ticket, inspected and x-rayed our bags, handled our bags (we were not allowed to touch them until we reached Copan Ruinas, even when we stopped in San Pedro Sula) and patted us down with hands and metal detectors.

Hedman Alas had probably had some problems with gangs and armed robberies and instituted the new measures to improve the safety of their passengers. Which was...comforting.

Central Honduras is a gorgeous place, with hilltop vistas, pine trees and soaring views through the mountainous, vertiginous countryside. I did feel that if we stopped in some of the small towns we passed that we'd be fairly safe, and would like to return someday to explore those areas, even though I'd take pains to avoid Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

By the way, don't take a rickshaw from the bus station when you arrive, or if you do, bargain them down to about $1 US. It's not $3, 4 or 5 as they try to tell you. The usual in-town price for a ride is a buck...but honestly, if your luggage is light you can walk into town and find a hotel fairly easily. We did, as a rickshaw followed us insisting on "$3! Normal price I tell you!" (It reminded me a bit of India in that way).

For all those worried about safety in Copan Ruinas - don't be. People will overcharge you for souvenirs and rickshaw rides (especially right off the bus), but that's about it. ATMs and even the local coffee shop are guarded by semiautomatic-wielding security guards, and you are basically safe: Copan Ruinas and Roatan (an island off the Caribbean coast) are the two main tourist draws, so the tourist police have a strong presence there, which tends to keep funny business at bay.

We had planned to spend a day in Copan Ruinas but after our two-day long bus trip (for which it rained the entirety of one day - so much so that across Nicaragua villagers were coming out to look at the swollen waters under the bridges we crossed) we decided to budget two days, and take the second day to (mostly) relax.

One thing I definitely noticed was the greater influence of Mexican culture: in Panama, it felt very South American - wetter, a bit more humid perhaps, and laid-back. Here, the cowboy hats were out in force, as were the mustaches. Brendan asked me if he should try to blend in by wearing jeans with a pistol slung in a holster, a giant cowboy hat and a bushy, no thanks. It was also true that carrying guns was much more "done" here - we didn't see many people openly slinging firearms in Panama or Costa Rica, but by the time we hit Honduras, everyone was packin' heat!

On the first day, we visited the Ruinas themselves - Mayan ruins of the ancient capital of Copan. The ruins are famous for their intricate, detailed carvings and inscriptions. Though there are some flat pyramid-style structures and a few high walls and a staircase or two, you won't find the towering, massive temples of Tikal here: the emphasis is on smaller pieces, but with much more design and flair. To be honest, as someone who creates art inspired by mehndi designs, I preferred the aesthetics of Copan to those of Tikal.

As you can see in many of the carvings, the remnants of paint still cling to the stone: it is believed that many of these were brightly painted in their day.

You can also see that the people of Copan were fascinated by death and death rituals - frightening old, demonic faces and skulls are found in all sorts of places across the ruins (which span two fields) and the Copan Ruinas museum (which is definitely worth the price of admission). The Mayan use of skulls and other death symbols is stronger here than at any other known site of ruins - if I'm wrong on that, please do leave a comment!

Copan Ruinas is perhaps best known for its Petroglyph Staircase (also called the "Hieroglyph Stairway")- a tall set of stairs covered in inscriptions, many of them worn down from generations of people being allowed to climb the stairs. The stairs are now off limits to further preserve the petroglyphs, and covered by a protective tarp that is somewhat mood-smothering, but they're still awe-inspiring.

Simple called "The Old Man Face", this is one of my favorite carvings at Copan Ruinas.

The backs of god statues are covered in inscriptions/petroglyphs: I'm not sure what they say because I am not familiar with Ancient Mayan - fancy that - but they're cool nonetheless. The front of the statues look remarkably like Hindu god sculptures in India (I'm no conspiracy theorist, though).

Another thing I noted is how much the decorations often resemble Shang dynasty Chinese art with their angular, almost keyhole-like designs. Again, not so into conspiracy theories and the eras were totally off - I think it's more that angular keyhold designs with details and squared-off swirls is an aesthetically pleasing configuration that two cultures happened to think of at different times. It happens!

A petroglyph. In Copan Ruinas town you can buy silver-pewter reproductions of these petroglyphs strung into necklaces. They're gorgeous but expensive (a little overpriced if you ask me, for something that is not sterling)

On the second day we visited Macaw Mountain - a natural rehabilitation center for injured or mistreated birds. The $10 entrance fee goes to fund the rehabilitation, so it's well worth it. Included is a free tour (it's nice to tip) and it's a lovely place to wander around by yourself or have a coffee, too.

It was a great place to relax on our second day without stressing too much - a necessary bit of unwinding considering our long bus and van ride to Tikal the next day.

The highlight was when some birds were allowed out of their cages and placed on us:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Honeymoon Redux I: Guatemala

Continuing in the vein of procrastinating on finishing the post I meant to work on, I figured it was about time to post better, edited photos from our honeymoon. I decided to work my way backwards, starting with Guatemala (our final destination) and ending, five posts later, with Panama (our first stop). I won't do all five posts at once, but will instead space them out over next week.

I also chose to do Guatemala first because while we were on the honeymoon itself, I posted updates with unedited photos from every country except that one, where between the ruins, paradisical turquoise pools and colonial grandeur of Antigua, we were just too busy.

We began in Guatemala with Tikal, which I believe is a legally mandated stop for all tourists to Guatemala. If you don't go, they cane you or something.

The fun thing about Tikal was that you can climb many of the temples via added staircases on the side, built out of the main range of vision so that they don't obstruct the view, and clamoring tourists won't wear down the stone steps.

As you can see, the temples at Tikal are massive, but also mostly unadorned. (This is a view of Temple V).

I strongly recommend, even if you stay in the nearby backpacker haven of Flores for part of your stop in Tikal (Flores is a lovely place to hang out for a day or two, by the way), that you spend at least one night near Tikal itself. There are cheap food options and you can stay rather affordably - if you're not a backpacker - at the Tikal Inn or other places.

Why do this? Well, if you buy a ticket for Tikal at 3:30pm, they won't punch it, so you can use it all day the next day. In the early hours of the morning, you wake up to the screams of howler monkeys (which is all cool and jungle-y and, despite it being primates rather than reptiles, sounds like something out of Jurassic Park). You can be at the park in the early morning and late evening, when there are fewer tourists. That's when you'll start seeing monkeys and coatimundi.
Here's an antiqued view of either Temple I or II from the top of Temple V.

On the way to the poetically named Temple of the Inscriptions (which is honestly something of a letdown - you can't get up close, there's really only one major engraving and it's in a greater state of ruin than the others) we walked along a quiet trail - famous for being a hangout for thugs before the site had adequate police protection, which was worrisome - and we saw many insects, butterflies and a coatimundi.
Leafcutter ants make for great photographs!

I love the gnarled roots in this faded-out photo of Semuc Champey, 60 kilometers from Coban (20 of those kilometers are pure hell on bumpy mud roads).

To get there from Tikal, we took a shared van - but the direct route from Sayaxche was flooded out, so we had to go south and west via Rio Dulce. Go plot Flores to Coban via Rio Dulce and you'll see how trying that was.

Semuc Champey is near the small town of Lanquin, which is both friendly and picturesque.

Semuc Champey is a series of pools of varying color filled with clear, swimmable water. It was made when a natural limestone bridge formed over a river, and more water cascaded over the stone. The color of the water varies in jewel tone from aquamarine to turquoise to emerald.

Every town in Guatemala has its church, and Lanquin is no exception.

I love this photo for its simplicity (for the record, I did ask and they were happy to pose).

We stayed at El Retiro - deservedly popular with backpackers, it's scenic, friendly and relaxing, and only a short walk from Lanquin town. It was definitely worth it to stay there, even though the culture there is more early-twenties and we were thirty year olds on a honeymoon (they do have private rooms).

From Lanquin, we took a charter van to Antigua (not wanting to stay in Guatemala City at all). We stayed at Casa Cristina, a charmingly cozy and affordable hotel near Iglesia de la Merced. I highly recommend it.

I'm a big fan of the giant rosaries draped on the front of some churches, and Iglesia de la Merced is no exception.

The Arco Santa Catalina - no pictoral of Antigua is complete without it, even though I didn't get a truly great picture. It was originally built so that nuns living in the monastery could cross the street to the other monastic building without being seen.

The fountain in the town square just after sunset - you can see a bit of the town cathetdral in the background in white plaster.

I'm not sure what I like more about this photo - the "Bronze" sign, the fairy light nativity scene or the overall composition.

Guatemala was hit by a devastating earthquake in the 1700s and some things were never rebuilt, including this Monstery of the Recollection on the edge of town.

One thing I loved about Antigua were all the oddball door knockers, including this one of a rodent of some sort - there were also upturned heads, hands, tigers, dogs, demons, old men and myriad other designs.

Parts of Antigua are still a bit untouched-up - it shows that this city was lifted out of disrepair by all that has still not been done. The city is full of Maya who come in to sell their wares to tourists.

Behind the white facade of the church above, you'll find the ruins of the old church with it's blown-out domes - when clouds float overhead through the openings it's magical. This is one ruin, like the Recollection, better left as is.

The skyline of Antigua is dominated by this volcano - this picture, by the way, was taken from our hotel room ($5 for a volcano view - totally worth it).

Another awesome door-knocker.

Guatemala City has such an awful reputation that we skipped it altogether, taking a shared van from Antigua straight to the airport when it was time to fly home. I've heard way too many sketchy and disturbing things about Guate to ever want to go there.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Honeymoon Part I: The Best of Our New York and Washington DC Photos

Nobody can deface a subway advertisement quite like New Yorkers can.

A few interesting snapshots from the days before the wedding and our quick jaunt to New York and Washington DC with friends directly following the wedding:

Brendan's parents having dinner (appetizers are in the photo) at my parents' house the Thursday before our Saturday wedding. Note the matching shirts on both the moms AND the dads. Not planned, I swear!

We got married in Poughkeepsie New York, and so we took a walk on the new Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, now a walking path/park with fine views of the Hudson River.

From here, Po-town doesn't seem quite so ugly (on the ground, much of it is a highway flanked with strip malls.)

The Mid-Hudson Bridge

After the wedding, we rented a car and drove to DC, which included a stop at the famous Arlington, VA "gas church". Note the gas station on the lower level. And yes, the Gas Church (Our Lady of Petrol?) is legitimately famous, though it's not known everywhere as the "Gas Church" as I call it. We used to live right up the street from it!

A cool dragon-inspired gate in DC's otherwise lackluster Chinatown (seriously, "Chinatown Attractions" include the traditional Chinese Fuddrucker's, the ancient Chinese Bed, Bath&Beyond and of course Chinese Starbucks.

What is now Chinatown used to be an otherwise normal neighborhood. This Wok 'N Roll (I only wish that name were a joke - and it's next to New Big Wong) was once the Surratt Boarding House, where Lincoln's assassination was planned.

The Navy Memorial's world map with view of the National Archives. Very feng-shui if you ask me.

Can you find the typo? I can!

Ford's Theater, with Emily and Becca on the right.

Ah, DC. Where the Crazies (and not-so-crazies) congregate to protest. This protester has had a manned station since the 1980s.

This horse is a fairly well-known DC landmark. Near it is a far funnier statue that, because of the particular reason why it's funny, I've chosen not to post here (northwest corner of Lafayette Park - see if you can find it).

What I love about DC (and New York) is the sheer amount of this kind of architecture - buildings spanning late 19th century, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, pre-war rowhouses, the works.

The World War II Memorial, which is...OK.

Honest Abe.

A young girl poses at the Lincoln Memorial

That evening we drove out to the 'burbs for a friend's birthday party, held for whatever reason out in Fairfax, VA (at a pretty good restaurant, at least). Meliheh seen here with Evan.

In New York, we enjoyed this establishment, with ornery old waiters and two kinds of beer: light and dark. Yes, it stayed open through Prohibition but was almost certainly not founded in 1854.

Ground Zero at sunset.

At a really good coffeeshop somewhere in lower Manhattan.

Being foreign, Emily didn't want to attract attention by looking like a tourist, and did her best to fit in.

Ah, Staten Island. Yeah, it basically looks like this.

Brendan on the ferry (because we had to play tourist)

Another classic Emily moment.

Emily and Becca outside the Stonewall.

Stone face near...I'm not sure actually.

Two graffiti'd buildings near Joseph's parents home in Soho. We are trying to figure out how to inherit his parents' apartment.

At Grimaldi's Pizza in Brooklyn (DUMBO I believe).

After a bit more Brooklyn Beer than is strictly advised.

Emily and Pizza

New York has its fair share of Crazies, too. This guy was down by Ground Zero and is honestly way more offensive than any mosque/community center could be.