We Have “Done” Mexico

16/3/17. Well sort of. We have spent two nights there, at least.

And we had our expectations shot out of the water. Again. Just as we have had across Central America right from the beginning.

We had been expecting a dusty, scruffy border town with not much going for it. Instead, Chetumal is spacious, clean and smart! We passed through far worse towns in the US and it puts parts of New Orleans to shame! (Not the French Quarter – obviously – but we did see a couple of decidedly dodgy ‘hoods.) The traffic was not oppressive and (to confound another of our prejudices) almost 100% observant of pedestrian crossing laws.

The walk along the Malecon (waterfront) was very pleasant and we didn’t feel even slightly uncomfortable or unsafe even when we headed away from it back to the town centre and the very impressive museum of Mayan culture.

All of this was in contrast to the marginally unnerving greeting as the boat from Belize docked in Chetumal. We had been hoping for a journey with good views of the mangrove swamps and beaches but were disappointed to find that the enclosed cabin only had small windows up high so the sights were limited. In addition the boat was speedy (60+ kph) so bounced from one small wave to the next (it was beautifully calm, thankfully) which made for deafening crashes even if the motion was not bad enough to induce seasickness in a “pilled-up” Christine.

As we slowed to pull alongside the pier in Chetumal, the bow dropped and we could see 4 or 5 sub-machinegun armed soldiers standing watching the boat. We disembarked, were told to put all our hand luggage in a row and stood to watch two dogs being walked up and down sniffings the bags, all under the stern gaze of the soldiers.

Then it was off to passport control to pay the $30 entry tax in return for a stamp in the passport (this followed the $20 exit tax to get out of Belize) before watching the same dogs sniffing the line of checked in luggage.

But don’t let this put you off! The slightly unnerving first hour was soon forgotten.

You’d Better Belize It

13/3/17. We returned to Flores for the night as the bus to Belize left at 8 o’clock next morning with “check in” (a very informal process) an hour earlier. The bus was a grand affair compared with the rather tatty minibuses we had been in for the two long hauls across Guatemala – a full sized coach with toilet. And, of course, instead of every seat being taken there were only 9 of us so we had ample space.

Four of the other seven passengers had been on the ride from Pana to Lanquin (including Mark our interesting and inspiring dinner companion) and we saw several other faces we recognised when wandering around Tikal – sort of reassuring that others were on a similar programme to us – but also “not” when we have our contrary/unconventional heads on!

The border crossing from Guatemala to Belize had been flagged as an hour and a half affair. Thankfully, it only took about a third of that time – and involved no fees/taxes at all! Result!

Immediately on crossing the border there was a different feel. It was much more “Caribbean” rather than “ Hispanic” (helped by English signs everywhere and HM’s picture on the money!) but also it seemed more affluent – there were far more private cars (albeit somewhat beaten up) and the houses looked better. The predominant skin colour was also much darker.

The bus dropped us in Belize City (not the capital since 1970 despite being the largest place with a population of 50-60,000. Belmopan with 16,000 people has that honour.) from where we caught a (very) fast (almost 60 mph!! according to the GPS app on Stephen’s phone) water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker (pronounced “key corker”).

Mark had given us the heads up that life here was “relaxed” with a capital “R”  – and he was not wrong! What a great place for “chillaxing” (we’re down with the kids!)  this is. Everything is “No problem”  – in a Caribbean accent!

The only vehicles (including taxis) are golf buggies – or bikes but everything is within walking distance anyway (although the “roads” are hard packed sand for the most part). It is definitely geared up for the tourist trade but that, of course, made life easier (but more expensive) for us.

A hurricane a few years ago cut the island in half, creating “The Split” – a channel 100 feet wide – so the uninhabited north part is pretty much inaccessible.  As a result it could be a bit claustrophobic after more than a week – but a short stay is wonderfully relaxing.

We both hired bikes for an hour which was enough to explore all of the accessible part of the southern half of the island (parts are private land or “airport”) so we could tick off another country as “cycled in”! (Sad, isn’t it?)

However, Stephen’s highlight was a half day snorkeling trip out to the reef (the second largest in the world – after a bit of coral plonked somewhere off the coast of an island called OzSomethingOrOther”!!). The fish and the coral were beautiful and then there was “Shark & Ray Alley” where we swam with (thankfully) harmless nurse sharks and sting-rays by the hundreds. That was before we saw the giant turtle with a huge chunk of his shell missing (shark suspected! Eek!!)

Christine very much enjoyed the church service on Sunday – it made a nice change to understand the majority of what was being said!

Despite our reservations about a long (say 2 week) stay , we were not really ready to leave after 3 nights/2.5 days when it was time to catch the water taxi to Chetumal in Mexico, from where we will be flying back to Houston – especially as it was another early morning check in.

Mayan Adventure

10/3/17. (Sorry for the delayed posts over the last week – wifi has been very hit or miss! And, if truth be known, also the blogging motivation has taken a back seat!)

It was another long and not particularly comfortable bus trip from Lanquin is Flores. We woke to heavy rain but it gradually relented as we got under way. The first 11 km were back up  the steep gravel track that we had descended 2 days earlier and then it was back to the main town in the area, Coban, where we waited at Mcdonald’s for a 25 minute coffee break that turned into more than an hour because the bus went off somewhere for some undefined running repairs.

The driver was a bit of a lunatic with some ritzy overtaking manoeuvres on blind bends and summits. At one point we were held up for half an hour while the debris from an earlier accident was cleared. All the time that we were waiting we could sense the driver itching to be moving and he slowly wormed his way to the front of the queue and then past the accident site despite the police presence.

The countryside gradually became less mountainous and more cultivated. The road surface improved a little but there was still the occasional pothole which gave the driver the opportunity to try the left hand side of the road for a change! At one point we crossed a river via a chain ferry which looked to be simply a large sheet of metal on top of a small boat with a simple chain the only safeguard between the vehicles and the water.

Nearly 10 hours after we left Lanquin we crossed the causeway to Flores – a lovely town set on a small island in a lake. It has a real Mediterranean feel and look to it. On arrival we were plagued by men trying to sell tickets for transport to the Mayan city of Tikal but we were tired and wanted none of it so they got short shrift although it took a while for the message to penetrate.

We were dog tired and settled down to sleep – at which point someone decided to park his car right under our bedroom window and play disco music at top volume while he chatted with his friends. After about a quarter of an hour Stephen went out onto the balcony and mimed turning down the volume saying “Por favor” in his best Spanish. If looks could kill! But the level was reduced by about 10 decibels so that was a success.

In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast and were then ready to sort out our tickets to Tikal. The sharks were nowhere to be seen so we went into a small office a couple of doors along from the hotel and sorted things in a much quieter and more pleasant manner.

[Warning: next section in italics is a rant irrelevant to the main thrust of the story! Skip over if you wish!]

On the bus the hard sell started again for those of us who were spending the night in the park (most people on the bus were on a tour and returning to Flores that evening). Entrance to the ruins costs Q150 (about £16) per day but if you enter the park after 3.30 the ticket is valid for the day after as well.

We were getting there at about 2 o’clock so were expecting to have to pay for 2 days. The guide claimed that, for Q50, he could arrange a ticket that would be valid the next day as well. We, and the other 3 people staying the night, were not comfortable with his proposal.

At the ticket office at the entrance to the national park (17 km from the ruins and the hotels) we tried to buy tickets for the two days but were told that we could buy them for that day only. We would have to return to the gate from the hotel in the morning to buy another ticket and there was nowhere to buy them at the ruins or the hotels. (We discovered later that this latter piece of information was #FAKENEWS!)

We let the bus go and settled down to wait for an hour or so and then take a local bus into the park. Collectively we agreed to hire a local guide with whom one of the others, a Canadian lady called Chloe, had been in contact (a recommendation of a friend) for the sunset tour.

He certainly knew his stuff and yet was understated. He took us on a route which showed us interesting places, but also, on 2 or 3 occasions, made our jaws drop when we turned our heads.

It was a real Indiana Jones moment the first time it happened! There was this enormous building appearing out of the trees with birds squawking as we disturbed them as they settled down to roost. The sound of the howler monkeys added to the eeriness of it.

It has to be said that we were slightly unsure about the ethics of clambering all over buildings of historic significance made of (soft) limestone. We just hope our visit did not spoil the experience for future generations.

As sunset approached we tried to find the best place to sit. Where we could see the sun going down? Or where we could see the sun reflected wonderful colours  on the limestone? We settled on the latter.

Returning to the hotel, we had a most enjoyable evening chatting with Mark, a guy from Berlin who we had seen but not spoken with on both buses from Pana to Lanquin and from Lanquin to Flores.  (This was symptomatic of our journey across Guatemala to Belize – we seemed to be on a similar travel plan to a number of other people as we bumped into them at various points.)  Mark only served to confirm our desire to go to South America – his tales of Argentina and Buenos Aires were irresistible!

Our ticket for the next day was valid from 6.00 am.  However, it was gone 7 o’clock when we were compos mentis so we were locked into the previous evening’s decision of an “early” breakfast followed by a morning walk – not a problem! We may have been missed the dawn light on the buildings but we still “hit” the cooler and quieter part of the day which confirmed the decision to stay in a comparatively expensive hotel on site rather than take a day tour.

We Feel Very Lucky

7/3/17. Sat here sipping cold drinks on a warm evening listening to the cicadas chirping after a day looking at the wonderful Semuc Champey, we feel very, very lucky! It sure beats 10 or 12 hours slaving over a hot computer in an office!

(We don’t mean to gloat. We really do appreciate how privileged we are.)

Lanquin and Semuc Champey

7/3/17. Yesterday (Monday) we embarked on the first half of the journey across Guatemala from the south west where Antigua and Lake Atitlán are to the north east to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The shuttle bus ride was a lengthy affair (we were told “about 8 hours” but it turned out to be almost 11! At an average speed of about 16 mph for the 175 miles!!).

It was not a great start to the journey when the bus driver and assistant appeared nonplussed to find 4 people waiting at the hotel when they were expecting only 2. Our ticket/voucher prompted frantic phone calls back to base before we were motioned to climb aboard. As we drove around Pana collecting people from other hotels more calls ensued before things were resolved and they indicated that we should move up alongside the driver.

The bus headed slowly out of Pana up the 750+ metre climb to the main PanAmerican highway for a short stretch before heading off to Chichicastenango (which everyone calls a much more manageable Chichi), a small town famed for its ethnic goods market. Here we picked up another 7 people so we had a full (i.e. packed) bus of 15 plus the driver (his assistant having left us back at Pana).

The road was a slow and windy one with barely a flat stretch as steep uphill followed vertiginous descent. At times the road surface was excellent and we could pick up some speed (when going downhill at least) but there were also places where the potholes were even worse than those in Surrey’s roads (difficult though that may be to believe!) and stretches which were unpaved and very bumpy.

The countryside gradually became greener with many more trees but remained surprisingly well populated despite its mountainous nature and we passed through a number of towns and villages.  Many of the narrow streets were one way and the route through them was mazelike with non-existent signage.

There was a lunch/toilet stop after about 4 hours which was a welcome opportunity to unwind the kinks that had developed in our legs and rear ends. We set off again only to have to change to an empty bus after another hour, presumably to allow the driver to return to Pana.

In one village we passed some women carrying large plastic jars on their heads and saw water being drawn from a well. Christine also observed that the style of skirts changed from a simple sheet of cloth wrapped round and held in place by a belt to a very pretty pleated, peasant style skirt.

There was another brief stop in the large town of Coban at about 4.30 – at a Mcdonald’s of all places – before we set off on the last 50 or so km. The first 40 km were on a well paved road but, just as night started to fall, we turned off and crept down a very steep gravel track towards the village of Lanquin which cannot be far from the geographic centre of Guatemala. The last 11km took the best part of an hour and we were mighty glad to flop down in the hostel with a drink and a plate of chips (neither of us felt particularly hungry despite not having eaten much all day) before hitting the sack.

The shower was of the same type as the one photographed in Antigua. As the wiring here involved less insulating tape and looked marginally safer Christine decided to risk it but as she was finishing she thought she saw a flash (don’t forget, she wasn’t wearing her glassesl). So Stephen approached it with some care and turned on the water before getting in. Almost immediately there were 2 more flashes so he decided a quick wash in the sink was preferable to being electrocuted!

Having survived our morning ablutions and breakfasted, we jumped on the back of a truck to the main attraction around here – a national park called Semuc Champey which, in the local Mayan language (Q’eqchi), means “river underground”. This is because the river disappears into a sinkhole and flows under a 300m limestone bridge before emerging at the top of a waterfall. On the top of the bridge is a series of turquoise pools fed by lots of springs which is popular for swimming.

Set in a steep sided valley surrounded  by jungle covered mountains, it is breathtakingly lovely! Apparently (Rough Guide), until a few years ago there were very few visitors but it is now firmly on the backpacking trail. At the moment Lanquin is a “ real” place where most of the locals go about their lives unaffected by travellers but with some tourist infrastructure for those prepared to “invest” a day’s travel on rough roads each way to get here. We can envisage that in 10 years’ time it will be a real Tourist Town, especially if the road is resurfaced.

But back to Semuc Champey. We hired a local Mayan guide, Hairo, who was lovely! Before going to the pools themselves, he took us to a viewpoint that gave a wonderful vista of the valley. It was an extremely steep climb up a mixture of steps cut into the rock and slippery wooden stairs in very warm and humid weather which Christine doubts she would have completed without holding Hairo’s hand for much of the way up (and down the other side too). He was patient and as surefooted as a chamonix so he made her feel quite safe!

Down at the pools we stripped down to bathing costumes and jumped into the refreshingly cool water. It was crystal clear and we soon realised that the gentle touches on our feet were from the tiny fish having a little nibble!

After a while Stephen and Hairo went to the lower pools, leaving Christine nattering to a Guatemalan lady who worked for Shell and was extremely well travelled and interesting. The rocks in the little streams joining the lower pools were oftern extremely slippery which made for a couple of fun slides down mini waterfalls but also gave Stephen an opportunity to appreciate the steadying assistance of Hairo’s hand at times!

Hairo then took him into what he called a “mini cave”. This was really a very large rock overhanging the water which, at one end, was only a couple of inches above the water level so you walked in with your head tilted righted back to keep your nose in the air. At the other end the rock came right down to the water so it was necessary to swim underwater for a metre or so. At least this was the case for the soppy gringoes with claustrophobia like Stephen!  For Hairo there was the more adventurous option involving a much longer underwater passage, emerging about 15 metres further on!

We thought it was an absolutely stunning place and well worth the effort to get here.

Guatemala and its Amazing Technicolour Clothing

3/3/17. Crossing borders is always a little nerve-wracking (we are apprehensive about going back to the US later this month, what with all the confusion about changes to immigration laws and everything) so we were a little apprehensive about heading into Guatemala and, in particular, changing buses in Guatemala City.

Carlos, the owner of the hostel in Santa Ana, had arranged our bus ticket to Guatemala CIty and a taxi to the bus stop on the edge of town at 6.15 a.m.(which was overly cautious as the bus didn’t leave San Salvador, 65 km away, until 6.00 so we had almost an hour waiting at a bus stop outside McDonald’s on a very smelly dual carriageway into Santa Ana – but better early than late!)

The border crossing was very straightforward but took over an hour as we had a long wait for a Salvadoran official to board the bus to scrutinise all the passports closely (just as on entering the country – and again no stamp unfortunately!). For the Guatemalan side, the conductor took all our passports away and returned them stamped (hooray!) and off we went again. No need to have been concerned about this part of the journey.

A river formed the border and as soon as we crossed the bridge the road was lined with stalls selling all manner of clothing. This rang a bell with Stephen who remembered that his former employer, Intertek, had a sizeable business inspecting apparel and textiles manufactured in the country.

On descending from the bus at the Guatemala City bus station we were asked “Antigua?” and then shepherded to an area off to one side. There we were told that there was a shuttle bus waiting outside and they could do us a “special price” of $20 per person, instead of the usual $25. Stephen was reluctant to pay as this seemed like a rip off but Christine was keen as she didn’t fancy trying to find an alternative, probably from a place elsewhere in the city (and therefore a taxi ride away) so the decision was made!

We were the only ones on the shuttle which took an hour and a half and dropped us at the hostel. This was far less salubrious than Carlos’s establishment in Santa Ana, smelling strongly of dogs, and with the Russian lady owner’s bed taking up almost the whole space behind the desk in reception! However, the room was less smelly, reasonably clean and had a stonking view of the volcano that dominates the city’s skyline so we went with the flow. It was at this point that Stephen discovered that he had left his reading glasses on the shuttle so, until we get back to Houston where he has a spare pair he will be holding documents 6 feet from his nose or asking Christine what they say! The joys of getting old!

Our reaction to Antigua (pronounced “An-tee-gwa”, unlike the the Caribbean island which has no “w” in its sound) was similar to that to León in Nicaragua – wondering what all the fuss was about to start with but then finding the place growing on us as we walked around soaking up the atmosphere over a couple of days.  It is even more low rise (if that makes sense) than León and Granada – barely any buildings are more than one storey tall. We suspect that this is a response to series of 3 earthquakes in the 17th and 18th centuries each of which destroyed the city and resulted in it moving a few miles away. The last, in 1773, was particularly devastating and, as a consequence, lost its status as capital to what is now known as Guatemala City.

There is a lovely artisan market in the city which displays all manner of merchandise, but particularly stunning were the clothes and other textile goods which are in a glorious range of colours and exhibit some wonderful workmanship. Christine was completely entranced by these and showed immense restraint by only looking despite the temptations. We also discovered an indoor market which had a similar range of goods but which appeared to be operated on a Fairtade basis buying from local collectives.

On Friday morning Stephen persuaded Christine to return to this indoor market to buy a beautiful shawl in her favourite colours of orange and gold and brown. See below.

We spent half of Thursday planning the remainder of our stay in Central America as we had made contact with Sheila and Robin (the custodians of our bikes back in Houston) and then booked our flights back to the US of A for the 16 March from Chetumal, a city in Mexico just over the border from Belize. Flights from there are much cheaper than from elsewhere in Central America.

As a result of this planning & subsequent buying of bus tickets and booking of accommodation we have a trip mapped out through Guatemala, into Belize and then a water taxi ride (the only travel not booked yet) to Chetumal. This is most out of character. We feel really organised and proud of ourselves!

After the shawl shopping expedition Stephen wandered round Antigua pretending to be a photographer (photos page is being updated slowly because of problems with the website software) while Christine guarded the luggage at the hostel.

The bus ride to our next port of call, Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, took us really up into the highlands. Antigua and Pana (as almost everyone calls it – much easier to say!) are both at about 1,500m (around 5,000 feet) but in between we climbed to almost 2,700m (not far off 9,000 feet). We have never been so high, other than in an aeroplane. What really surprised us was (a) the number of towns and villages we passed through on the way – it was one of the most populated stretches of countryside we have seen in Central America and (b) it did not feel especially high – Christine felt no twinges of altitude sickness!

The descent into Pana by the lake shore was spectacular and mildly scary for Christine sat up front alongside the driver. The town is a bustling little place clearly geared towards the tourist trade thanks to its beautiful setting. Lake Atitlán has been compared to Lake Como “but with volcanoes”. It is certainly a lovely place.

After settling into the hostel (no smelly dogs or Slavic women sleeping in reception here, thank goodness) we took a wander around town which left us with a very favourable impression despite the complete focus on the tourist trade.

On Saturday we went on a boat trip visiting three other villages on the lakeshore. This is very much a Mayan centre – lots of ethnic handicrafts and the people here are just tiny! The women are mostly around the level of Christine’s shoulder – so little more than 4’ 6” – but many are in traditional dress. It is especially nice to see a tiny woman holding her daughter’s hand, both dressed in the same traditional costume.

One of the consequences of being at 5,000 feet (both here and in Antigua) is that the temperature is that much lower – say 25-30°, rather than 30+ and at night it gets almost chilly! Even Stephen needs a blanket as well as as a sheet. And here on the lake there is a strong breeze too,

We have also enjoyed observing (from a distance) the antics of the tuktuk drivers both here at the lake and in Antigua. The streets are very narrow and, in Antigua, cobbled so cars go very slowly (a boon when crossing the road) but none of this slows the tuktuks down!

Sauntering in Salvador

28/2/17. Today is our last day in El Salvador and it has been wonderful. This was helped by us having the company of Maureen and Ofer, until we separated this morning.

With much reluctance, we left El Cuco on Saturday morning, sharing a car with Maureen and Ofer, heading for the mountainous west of the country. We took the “pretty route” along the coast instead of going inland via the capital, San Salvador and it was really rather lovely. The first half of the journey was not actually on the coast but took us past two volcanoes which was a spectacular alternative. They are not active but they dominate the countryside around them which, while not flat, is not generally high.

There then followed a stretch of the route on a windy and hilly road clinging to the side of the cliffs with views of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at a small restaurant right on the cliff top with a gorgeous view of the sea dashing against the rocks below.

The drive to Juayua on the Ruta de las Flores (the Route of the Flowers) took us about 6 hours to cover 270 km (see here for the map showing our overnight stops). Our destination is renowned for its food festival/market held each weekend. Unfortunately it was closing down by the time we had finished checking in and freshening up after the journey on Saturday but we followed the advice of a Canadian guy, Kitts (hope that’s the right spelling of his name!) and went for the best meal of our Central American trip, so far, at a small restaurant in the town.

On Sunday we caught the chicken bus (one of the old US school buses that are everywhere) to a neighbouring town also on the Ruta called Ataco. We had a great time wandering round the shops looking at the ethnic gifts for sale, many of which were of very good quality and a little bit different. We restrained ourselves to buying a fridge magnet as a result of our constraints on space! (We have brought one pannier each and we bought two small backpacks when we decided to extend our Central American jaunt.)

While shopping we had noticed a small drinks stand in the street which had a small “rooftop” area so the four of us climbed up and sat sipping mojitos while watching the world go by below – all rather pleasant.

In pleasant afternoon we returned to Juayua and looked round the food market and relaxed a little. After dinner the drinking session started! The driver the previous day had told us about a Salvadoran rum so Maureen was keen to compare it with a Nicaraguan rum, Flora de Caña, which they had bought in León. Stephen had bought a small bottle of TicTac which claimed to be the Salvadoran national drink. It looked as though it might be akin to paint stripper but surprised us all by being reasonably smooth and semi-drinkable!

The hotel where we were staying had links with three coffee farms so on Monday morning we went on a tour with the hotel manager who also runs the farms. It was fascinating, and the best bit was trying the coffee at the end. We roasted some beans that he had brought with him and then he set to work, firstly with a drip filter and then an espresso machine.

It was the best coffee any of us had ever tasted! It was only roasted lightly to let the subtleties of the flavours show through and we were all blown away by these when we were shown how to taste the drink “properly”. It really was akin to a wine tasting. Stephen, who normally takes his coffee black, very much enjoyed the macchiato while Christine was overwhelmed by the cappuccino, and was really disappointed that her susceptibility to migraines meant that she had to ration her consumption.

This morning we had to part from our new friends as Maureen and Ofer have another week in El Salvador before flying home to San Francisco while we must be getting on towards Guatemala. We took the chicken bus to Santa Ana, about 1.5 hours away, and made our way to the hostel which came very highly recommended by both Rough Guide and The Lonely Planet as well as having a rating of 9.8 on booking,com.

It did not disappoint! The owner, Carlos, was extremely hospitable and helpful, sorting out our tickets to Guatemala and the taxi to the bus stop early the next morning. The room was extremely comfortable with an excellent en suite bathroom (including a hot water shower – most of them are cold only, which is not a huge problem in these temperatures but can be a little breathtaking at first. There were two spotless and well equipped kitchens with free coffee and filtered water “on tap” while beer, wine, soft drinks and brownies were available on the “honour system” (you write your name and what you have had on an adjacent whiteboard).

Another Two Days in Paradise

24/2/17. After his surfing exploits (and several games of beach volleyball later the same afternoon when it was a little cooler) Stephen woke with stiff and aching muscles that do not get exercised on a bike. He definitely felt his advanced years!

We had arranged, along with Maureen and Ofer, to take a trip in the hotel’s own boat to an island in the Gulf of Fonseca, which is between Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. The island to which we went, Isla de Meanguera, was claimed by all three countries until an international court decided in favour of El Salvador in the 1990s.

Christine of course took a seasick pill before we set off even though we had been assured that it was a calm day (“You should see it in the winter”), as she is amongst the world’s worst travelers despite her love of travel. The waves did look pretty small – but so was the boat and it was been driven at high speed so it skimmed across them with the bow pointing skywards. There was the occasional resounding, bone-jarring crash as we caught a sequence of waves wrong and the bow came crashing down but, in general, it was simply exhilarating and Christine felt fine.

We stopped in mid ocean alongside a similar sized boat that was out fishing and our two Salvadoran crew negotiated the purchase of 6 fish and 6 very large prawns for lunch. They came prepared with scales as they were sold by the pound (not the kilogramme!) – $1.50 per lb for the fish and $5 for the prawns.

After about two hours we reached the island where we went ashore on a little bay with 3 or 4 small “shacks”, only one of which seemed to be inhabited. The crew gave the fish to the lady of the household to cook while one of them chopped some tomatoes, onions, peppers and limes for the accompanying salad and tortillas. Meantime we swam, walked along the beach and cracked open the beer and water from the cooler the crew had brought with us.

The food was delicious!

We digested lunch gazing at the beautiful blue sea and sipping beer (or water in Christine’s case) before having another cooling dip. Then it was time to set off for a circuit of Bird Island where there were hundreds of frigatebirds circling above and squadrons of pelicans bobbing about on the sea.

At this point Christine started to feel unwell despite having taken another pill at lunchtime. We think it was a combination of the heat (it was pretty warm by now) and the cumulative effect of the sea. After a brief stop at the small harbour on Isla De Meanguera (which Christine used to recycle her lunch to the fishes!) we set off for home.

By now, the swell had increased and the crew seemed unable to decide which was better – going slowly which meant that we rode up one side of the waves and then down the other, or going fast which meant that the bone-jarring crashes were much more frequent. None of which did Christine’s seasickness any favours. She kept her eyes firmly closed and willed the journey to be over.

However, she perked up considerably just before the end as we spotted a school of dolphins and spent 5 minutes circling the area while these beautiful creatures criss-crossed in front of and under the boat.

Although the ride back had been exhilarating for three of us, we were all glad to arrive back at the hotel as bracing ourselves against the crashes and movement of the boat had been quite exhausting. Heaven alone knows what the trip must be like in the “winter”!

We spent Friday in a much more leisurely manner doing little other than reading, eating and drinking until late afternoon when there was a group “litter patrol” (in exchange for a free beer) followed by the release of more than 50 baby turtles at sunset.

The coast here is a big turtle nesting area and the collection of turtle eggs is illegal but the law is not enforced. So there are many poachers selling eggs either to restaurants or a small but growing number of environmentally minded organisations, including La Tortuga where we are staying, which care for them until they hatch.

It was lovely watching the little turtles being released near the water’s edge and making their way over the sand. Some energetically headed straight to the sea while others seemed much less certain what they should be doing. Often they would reach the water only for a wave to push them back the way they had come. However, they all made it even if some received a helping hand or two on the way.