Tag Archives: City

Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Surabaya is known as the City of Heroes for the part it played in the war of independence against the Dutch Empire. It’s also the country’s second largest city.

Surabaya isn’t a city that has embraced tourism to any great extent and because of this it doesn’t attract many travellers. This didn’t stop us from spending a couple of days checking out the attractions it does have.

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Surabaya is a major shopping destination for Indonesians with many Western style shopping malls in the central city. But just outside this area the city changes to more squalid conditions where the poor try to eke out a living.

Strangers in a Strange Land
As we walked around the city we garnered much interest from the locals, who would often stare at the two tall, bearded, foreign lads. Many times we’d hear, ‘Hello Mister’, followed by giggles, as if this was somehow funny because it was the only words in English they knew. Then unexpectedly, at another time, a local would strike up a random conversation in fairly fluent english.

For two days we felt like the only Westerners in the city until returning to the hostel we discovered a young Italian guy had moved into our room. He joined our troupe and began travelling with us.

The Bemo
While there are plentiful taxis in the city, we discovered a very cheap form of transportation known as the Bemo. A Bemo is simply of minivan converted into a taxi-bus that travels along a predetermined route through the city. Simply wave at it to stop, tell the driver where you want to go and get in the back. When you’re at your destination the driver will let you know or press the button to get him to stop.

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The cost of the trip is 4,000 Rupiah (40 cents) no matter how far you go. There are more than 40 routes, each defined by a large letter emblazoned on the front, and sometimes the back, of the vehicle. There are many Bemos on each route, so if the first one is full another will come along soon after. The entire Bemo system is reminiscent of the taxi system I discovered in southern Chile, the difference being that in Chile they use cars instead of vans.

There’s one large downfall of the Bemo system, knowing where a certain lettered Bemo goes. While there’s a list of routes online at: www.angelfire.com/on/Genhome/rutebemo.htm, there’s no map. So, unless you know the areas getting lost is easy. Having a maps app on your phone helps a lot.

Monkasel – Submarine Monument
Probably the least likely tourist attraction in the city is the Submarine Monument, dedicated to a SS-type Whisky class submarine built in Russia in 1952.

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The Monument is the full-sized submarine and is open for viewing most days of the year for the hefty price of Rp8,000 (80 cents). The submarine has seven rooms, although entry to some are through very low bulkhead doors. This height issue isn’t a problem for the locals, but at 189cm I had to crawl through them.

Tugu Pahlawan – Heroic Monument
Standing at 41 metres tall, the Tugu Pahlawan is a large monument commemorating the heroes of the war of independence. It is also the main symbol of Surabaya appearing on the city’s Seal, which also contains a shark ‘Sura’ and a crocodile ‘Baya’.

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House of Sampoerna – Clove Cigarette Museum
While I’m morally against cigarette smoking, Surabaya contains an award-winning tourist museum devoted to the history of clove cigarette manufacturing in Indonesia. While surrounded by poor areas, the grounds of the museum could be mistaken for being in central Amsterdam.

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Other Places
While there are several other places in Surabaya of interest to travellers: The Four Face Buddha; Joko Dolog, the 700 year-old statue of Buddha; or several mosques and temples, it’s not always easy to find them. Whether they are down hidden alleyways, the Bemos don’t go near them, of they just don’t stand out. Several times ended up walking at length through slums trying to find a site. Unable to ask due to the language barrier and floundering in the sticky heat, we’d eventually give up and head somewhere else. We did get lucky a couple of times and found the occasional Hindu temple.

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While walking through the myriad of slums, at no time did we feel unsafe.

Next, we head by train to the student capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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Manchester, England – Impressions

Manchester is an industrial city in northern England. The Greater Manchester region boasts the second largest population for an urban area in the United Kingdom.

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With the city’s recorded history beginning in 79AD by the Roman Empire, the city is famous for being the first industrialised city in the world. The term Manchester is used by many countries in the southern hemisphere to refer to the textiles manufactures in the city during the industrial revolution. Manchester is also famous for having the world’s first railway station and the oldest public library. It is also the location where the atom was first split and where the concepts of both communism and capitalism were created.

During the two months I spent in Manchester waiting for a work permit, I made the most of my time getting to know the city without spending too much money. Over the course of several days, I explored the central city and enjoyed some of the architecture I found there.

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During my wanderings I located one of the city’s original roman sites, a the roman granary near the site of the roman fort Castlefield, which is now little more than a plot of land.

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Like London, Manchester has embraced a more modern style of building, including the One Angel Square building completed this year.

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Culturally, Manchester has plenty to offer such as the National Football Museum…

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…or Manchester United Stadium, if soccer is your thing…

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There this is the Museum of Science and Industry, which is spread over several huge warehouses.

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Then there is the neo-Gothic Central Library.

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One cannot come to Manchester without at least acknowledging it as the home of Coronation Street. The street itself is fictitious and is housed inside ITV studios.

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Going a little further afield I found a local collector showing off his cars. With vehicles from the past fifty years on show…

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Air shows are plentiful around the United Kingdom and I had the pleasure to see one of them at a local air field, featuring displays from many different aircraft including many ageing airplanes and helicopters.

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Lastly, I took in a canal cruise for a day, travelling along the extensive canals of northwest England out to the sea.

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The canal system was very important to the shipping of goods in the industrial era and is still put to good use. There are many bridges over the river canal, most swinging to the side to let the ship through, while others lift high into the air. The cruise finished in Liverpool, 53 kilometres away.

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Overall, Manchester was a relaxed place to spend time a couple of months and far cheaper than the more multi-cultural London. Although with the vast numbers of pregnant women and newborn children, I began to wonder if there was something in the water. Because of that I’ve labeled Manchester the breeding capital of England.

The World Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

London, England – Impressions

It’s no secret that London is the capital of England, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Empire. It’s less known that London is a leading global metropolis, is one of the world’s leading financial centres and is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

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After sixteen months of travelling, I’ve stopped off in the United Kingdom to rest and work for six months before I embark on a trip through Asia. But one cannot come to London without taking in some of the city’s sights. And with the most efficient public transport system I’ve come across, including The Tubes – the oldest and second longest underground rail system in the world – it’s easy to get around.

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During my time here I’ve explored many places and have come to enjoy London’s quaint and stunning architecture. Even the basic streets with their signature english brickwork are something to behold.

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Then there are the many prominent buildings such as Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which has been rebuilt four times since it’s original construction in 604 A.D.

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Westminster Abbey, site of many royal weddings…

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Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Queen of England…

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The castle that is The Tower of London, built almost 950 years ago and used primary as a prison for much of that time…

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The Tower Bridge, often mistakenly called London Bridge, which is the name of the next bridge along the River Thames…

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Big Ben, the nickname of the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower, renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012…

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The other end of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the House of Parliament…

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and the Royal Albert Hall…

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Modern London is not just a city of venerable architecture but a fusion of old and new with structures such as The Shard…

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The Gherkin…

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O2, originally known as The Millennium Dome…

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And of course the London Eye…

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While the weather in London isn’t always the best, when the sun does come out the parks throughout the city are busy with people taking in every bit of sunlight on rentable deck chairs. This is seen in all three of the central city’s major parks: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

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It’s easy to get sucked into life in London and it’s no wonder many who come here find it difficult to leave. The cultural scene is huge, with dozens of high-end stage productions showing at any given time, famous bands playing somewhere in the city every other night, and the many famous art galleries and museums scattered throughout the city. Including the National Art Gallery with its giant blue cock.

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With the world’s largest airport system, London is reportedly the world’s most visited city. And with the diverse societies of Europe and North-Africa on its doorstep, it’s not surprising that the city is a jumping off point, something I intend to explore in the future.

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There are many facets of life in London with so many nationalities represented here, although it’s difficult to find the actual british people among the crowds of foreigners. This makes the city a cultural melting pot and adding to its appeal.

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Finally, nothing reeks London more than a red double-decker bus with a Doctor Who advert on the side.

Next I head north to Manchester.

The World Wanderer

Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon, Arizona – Impressions

Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, is an intense place even if you’re only staying a couple of days. But if you’re planning to stay a week or more, getting out of the city should be a high priority. We did just that, hiring a car and driving to two features of the region:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dan is situated on the U.S. state border of Nevada and Arizona, 50 kilometres from Las Vegas. The dam was built in Black Canyon on the Colorado River to prevent flooding, provide irrigation and generate power for the states of Nevada, Arizona and California. At the time of construction it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

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Completed in 1936, the dam was also used as a major highway, but due to increasing traffic concerns the Dam Bypass Bridge opened in 2010.

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The dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir of water in the United States by volume. The dam took only 5 years to build and during that time took the lives of 112 people. Sixteen people died in the first year of construction when temperatures in the area clocked in at close to 50ºC. Another forty-two died from pneumonia, although in later years this listing was seen as a cover-up of deaths caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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The Grand Canyon
Nearly 200 kilometres from Las Vegas by car is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Skywalk is near the western end of the canyon at a site ingeniously called Grand Canyon West. There are several sections tourists can visit at Grand Canyon West; one is  Eagle Point, named after the impression of an Eagle in the ridge opposite…

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Eagle Point is also the location of the Skybridge itself, a metal framed ‘bridge’ with a glass bottom. Unfortunately use of personal cameras on the bridge is not permitted, meaning the cost of entry onto the walk plus purchase the photographs is quite expensive. Taking the Skywalk is not required as fearless tourists can walk to the edge of the canyon beside the structure.

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Another point of interest is Guano Point, literally ‘Bat Shit Point’. Bat caves were discovered in the canyon, the guano being a good source of phosphates used in farming. The mining lift building still stands at the end of the point.

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Guano Point is at the end of a thin section of a ridge line stacked high with boulders, giving great views along three separate sections of the canyon.

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The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon over the course of two billion years. It is 446 kilometres long, 29 kilometres at its widest and is 1,800 metres deep. It is in the top five largest canyons in the world, although the term ‘largest’ can have several meanings relating to depth, width and length.

While many simply bus to the sections of the canyon, boat, helicopter and small plane tours are available for those who wish an even closer look.

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Other Places
These are not the only getaways near Las Vegas, only the two we visited. Other sites of interest are:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Death Valley
  • Valley of Fire
  • Hidden Valley
  • El Dorado Canyon

The World Wanderer

Las Vegas, Nevada – Impressions

There’s no denying that Las Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the World. While many cities try to match the intensity and vibrance of Vegas, only a few come close to the glamour and the hideous wealth that brings people from all corners of the world.

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Like a shining beacon in the Nevada Desert the city sparkles day and night with its brilliant lights flickering and dancing. This is especially so along the world-famous ‘Las Vegas Strip’, which dominates the southern end of the city even though it’s not actually within Las Vegas city limits, but in the cities of Paradise and Winchester that surround it.

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The wealth of the city is centred around the multi-billion dollar casino and hotels, and there are many of these block-sized behemoths owned primarily by two corporations. But if they didn’t have enough casinos in the city, more are being built. This includes completing some of the half-built skeletons of hotels left abandoned after the financial collapse a few years ago.

Even corporations that don’t have towering casinos are well represented, such as the massive Coca-Cola store and the four level M&Ms store, with one floor having an entire wall covered in M&Ms.

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Las Vegas is definitely the city of the slot machine with nearly three hundred thousand scattered everywhere, from the airport foyer to gas stations. This isn’t to mention entire floors of them in every casino. The slot machines are themed on almost anything you can think of in attempts to draw the casual gamer. But like most, they give a little enticing the player with hopes of winning, then, if you let them, taking back all that was given and more.

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There are many other attractions in the city beyond the casinos, such as the roller coaster circling the New York New York casino, the rides atop the towering stratosphere casino, the Mob Museum and the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is in the centre of the Las Vegas ‘downtown’ area surrounded by older casinos. Along the covered street are many street performers, including many pop culture performers and celebrity lookalikes.

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Fremont street also has several stages along its street with various bands playing. It was St Patrick’s Day when I visited so there were many kilts being worn and irish bands playing to celebrate this ‘holiday’ that was created by the Americans. Even those without a kilt kept the green theme…

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There’s a lot of talent in Vegas with many comedians and musicians getting their start in the city. But Las Vegas is also the place where performers of old go to scrape out a living after their buzz has died down; these include David Copperfield, Celine Dion and Meatloaf, to name a meagre three.

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Alcohol laws are relaxed around the city. Almost every store sells it and some in large vessels like the daiquiri filled plastic yard glasses or the near actual sized plastic guitars filled with some alcoholic concoction. Alcohol is everywhere at all hours of the day and night. Honestly, who can resist a shot or two of the sweetest Tequila in the world, Dirty. This is especially so when the shots are twice normal size and only $2 each!

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Debauchery is rife in the city, with mobile billboards advertising ‘the classiest girls’ delivered to your hotel room within 20 minutes. Strips clubs are also heavily advertised in the evenings, with many hawkers giving out numerous business card sized cards offering special deals. There are also plenty of these…

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At a location along Las Vegas Boulevard between The Strip and the downtown is the towering casino Stratosphere. The building looks similar to the Skytower in New Zealand, and is only 20 metres taller. Atop the massive building there are four rides, a SkyJump similar to that on Auckland’s tower; The Big Shot, the highest thrill ride in the world which flings you into the air before letting you free fall down again; Insanity, dangling you over the building’s edge and spinning swiftly around; and lastly X-Scream, a roller coaster car that shoots you over the edge and stops suddenly, dangling you there.

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While visiting the city we even took in a baseball game. The Cubs versus The Mets…

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Overall, Las Vegas is an interesting place to spend a few days partying it up or throwing away your money, that’s if you can stand harassment by street hawkers or the relaxed inside smoking laws that make the slot machine floors harsh on the eyes and lungs. It’s not a bad place as long as you set a limit on everything and quit while you’re ahead.

The lights of our hotel, Excalibur…

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This is my final stop on my trip through Australia, Antarctica and the Americas over the course of sixteen months. Next I’m off to London, England, for a well deserved rest from travelling and to begin planning my next escape.

The World Wanderer

Looking Back, Central America

While it took ten months to work my way up the massive continent of South America, three months seemed only a short time to explore the Central America sub-continent even though it’s barely larger than Colombia. But since I was in the neighbourhood…

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Panama

San Blas Islands

With no straightforward bus route from Colombia to Panama, I chose a five-day cruise through the San Blas Islands, finishing in Panama City. The San Blas Islands are a glorious chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea, but make sure you do your research as the cruises aren’t always up to standard.

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Panama City

After so long in South America Panama City feels a little like home with its massive skyscrapers, malls, cinemas and fast food chains. When travelling long-term you lose the sense of time and on arrival in Panama days before Christmas I forget that it was prime holiday season for the locals. With most of the holiday destinations booked solid and long lines to get on any buses, I decided to spend the holidays hanging around the city. While there I visited the colonial old quarter of Casco Viejo, the canal and the ruins of Panama Viejo.

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Being in Panama City feels like being in the United States. There are so many Americans and I rarely needed to use my spanish skills as most people spoke english.

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Bocas del Toro

After the holiday break I headed west to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the border of Costa Rica. In the surf/party town I took the opportunity to spend a day on a catamaran snorkelling around the reefs and another sitting in a hammock at the hostel.

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Boquete

Then taking a chicken bus, I spent three days in the cooler climes of the mountain town of Boquete. While there I climbed the tallest mountain in the country – Volcán Barú. The views were wonderful from the top, but starting the 26km hike at midnight is difficult. So to recover I spent time in some natural hot springs just outside of town.

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Costa Rica

San José

Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America. From the capital, San José, I took a tour to the top of a volcano before boating along a river to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, crocodiles and many different types of birds. It was during this tour that Iguana was served for lunch.

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Liberia

Next I headed north to the city of Liberia from where I visited the beach town of Playa del Coco and a set of waterfalls.

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Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

My first stop in Nicaragua was the surf town of San Juan del Sur. A beautiful place to spend a couple of days with bars and beach-front restaurants aplenty. The town even has a statue of Christ atop a hill at the end of the beach.

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Isla Ometepe

No trip to Nicaragua is complete without catching the ferry across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island with its pair of volcanos. Cruising around the volcanos on a scooter is a lot of fun, visiting beaches, cafés and thermal pools. Both volcanos are climbable and a group of us scaled the largest of the two.

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Granada

Next, I was on a bus to the touristic city of Granada at the northern end of the lake for some amazing food and a visit to yet another volcano, this one spewing smoke from the crater within its crater.

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León

Then a quick stop off on the city of Léon to go hurtling down the side of an active volcano on a volcano board.

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Honduras and El Salvador

With limited time, I set foot only briefly in both countries, mainly at customs on the borders. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador seemed nice though for the thirty minutes we stopped there for lunch.

Guatemala

Antigua

Most travellers in Central America rave about Guatemala.  I arrived into Antigua to find another touristic city at the base of another volcano. Unlike other parts of Central America, Antigua has a lot of colonial architecture, although after numerous earthquakes over the centuries, many are in ruins.

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San Pedro la Laguna

I enjoyed a couple of days in San Pedro la Laguna on Lago Antitla with its thin streets, crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, great small restaurants and amazing lake views.

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Flores and Tikal

Then after a brief visit back in Antigua, I caught a bus to the north of the country to the island of Flores on Lago de Petén Itzá.

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Flores is a tourist destination and gateway to the great Maya ruins of Tikal, where I spent several hours exploring.

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Belize

Caye Caulker

Then on the one year anniversary of my time in Latin America I arrived in Belize, an english speaking country. Staying on the party island of Caye Caulker, I spent some time in the pristine waters snorkelling with Nurse sharks and Eagle Rays, some larger than I am.

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Mexico

While Mexico is actually in North America I included the southern portions as part of my Central American adventure. From Caye Caulker, I caught a ferry to Chetumal in Mexico and stopped for the night before heading on.

Palenque and Yaxchilán

After an eight-hour bus ride I arrived at the city of Palenque to continue The Maya Ruins Trail I began at Tikal. My first stop was the peaceful ruins of Yaxchilán and its connected site of Bonampak on the Guatemalan Border.

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Next it was to the Palenque ruins only twenty minutes out of the city.

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Merida and Uxmal

Four hours north in the Yucatán is Merida, a large and popular touristic city and the nearby ruins of Uxmal and one of its satellite cities, Kabah.

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Valladolid and Chichén Itzá

Then it was across to the city of Valladolid to see Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, seen by more people every year than Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

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Tulum

Then it was back to the Caribbean Coastline to the town of Tulum and the Maya fortress of the same name.

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Cancún and Playa del Carmen

The final distinction in my thirteen month trip through Latin America, Cancún, where I did little more than prepare for my exit from Latin America, but managed a quick visit to the beaches at Playa del Carmen.

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Next, is a well deserved rest from travelling for six months to save and plan a year through Asia.

Adios America Latina,

The World Wanderer.