Tag Archives: Island

Isle of Wight, England – Impressions

After lockdown eased and on the first British long weekend, I couldn’t help getting out of London. I’d put this trip off after booking it a year ago, and I’m now looking forward to exploring the island a little.

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The Isle of Wight is in the English Channel off England’s south coast, near Portsmouth, Southhampton and Bournemouth. The island is known for being Queen Victoria’s favourite summer holiday location and a hotbed of dinosaur fossils and a pivotal defence for the region against the Spanish Armada and in the Battle of Britain.

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My trip to the island was long, with an hour-long train ride across London, a 2-hour train to Portsmouth and a 25-minute catamaran ferry crossing to the township of Ryde.

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If I’d done a little more research, I’d have noted one of the world’s last commercial hovercraft services still operates from Portsmouth to Ryde and would have booked that instead of the ferry.

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With several hours to kill before my accommodation opened in Shanklin, on the south side of the island, I hung out in Ryde for lunch and had a wander around. After many weeks of rain in the UK, the sun decided to make up for it all in one go, marking the arrival of summer. I ordered takeaway fish and chips and sat in a small park overlooking the channel while I ate. Of course, fish and chips are a staple in London, but fresh cooked on the seaside is just better.

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Due to track upgrades, the cross-island train was closed, so after lunch and a climb through Ryde’s commercial streets, I made my way to the bus station for the trip to Shanklin. I arrived almost an hour later, but still too early for my accommodation. I stopped off at the local information centre/cafe, grabbed a map and a cider, then I began looking at things to do for the weekend. After checking into my accommodation, I explored the township, finding a path down to the beachfront.

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While Ryde is a typical British seaside township, Shanklin is a typical beachside township with many hotels and restaurants on the shoreline. The Pirate Cove and Jurassic Bay Adventure Park spanned several blocks, with plentiful ice cream stalls dotted about. At the end of the bay is the Shanklin Chine, a small tourist gorge with woodland paths leading up the cliff to come out near my accommodation.

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The Chine is nicely set up with well-manicured paths, a waterfall and a heritage centre with historical displays. Later that evening, coloured lights came on in the gorge, giving it an almost magical feel that photos don’t quite do justice. Then, after a beachfront dinner, I headed back to my accommodation.

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The following morning over my Full English Breakfast, I had to decide what to do for the day. While one of the main attractions on the island is The Needles, a series of chalk stacks in the bay, they’re 2 hours away by bus on the far end of the island. So, I decided on the less travel option, to the township of New Port near the island’s centre, to check out Carisbrook Castle, the Newport Minister, a museum of island history and a Roman villa.

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Newport is an hour by bus, and the castle on the hill outside of town, a further 20-minute walk. When I arrived, I discovered they weren’t accepting walk-in visitors, so I booked a ticket online. With 90 minutes until I was allowed in, I walked to a local supermarket to get some lunch, then back up the hill to wait for my entrance time.

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Carisbrook Castle was built in the 12th century atop a hillside where several roman forts had once stood. It is most notable for being the prison of King Charles I before his execution for treason and then 250 years later, the home of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s daughter.

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On a more personal note, the major sporting venue in Dunedin, New Zealand, was named after this very castle. The castle was in better repair than many I’d seen in the UK over the past few years. After I toured the castle and the high keep on the hill above it, I made my way back into town.

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I contemplated taking the bus to the Needles, but it drove by before I could get to the bus stop, so decision made, I headed back into Newport. When I got to the Minister, I found it was closed, at 2 in the afternoon on the Sunday of a long weekend. Disappointing.

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I headed to the Roman Villa and found that closed too, and was equally bemused to see the museum also closed. I’m not sure if this was due to the COVID lockdown or if the smaller town didn’t merit having these items open on a long weekend? So, I caught the bus back to the beach. But instead of stopping at Shanklin, I continued on to Sandown at the other end of the bay. With tourists enjoying the sun and beach, I walked around towards the white cliffs.

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When the path ran out, I walked back towards Shanklin, past the Sandown pier. The beachfront goes all the way to Shanklin, so I decided to walk the 3 miles back. A peaceful and enjoyable walk. In Shanklin, I stopped for dinner and a couple of ciders before heading back to my accommodation for the night.

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The next morning after breakfast, I caught the bus back to Ryde with the intention of walk to a nearby winery. But during the bus ride, I discovered the short tour I wanted to take was also on hold due to COVID. So, with nothing else to do, I went to the waterfront for lunch and awaited my ferry back to the mainland. Thankfully, I was able to take an earlier crossing to Portsmouth and its Emirates Spinnaker tower before my 2 and a half hour train ride home.

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Overall Impressions
The Isle of Wight was a lovely weekend away from London, but many things were closed due to the timing. This made travel times on the island long and meant I couldn’t see everything I’d have liked to. Disappointing, but perhaps I’ll return again in the future with a vehicle to make getting around a little easier.

The World Wanderer

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 1

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 mile / 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Day 1 – Lochranza to Imachar – 11 mi / 18.2 km

The first day of the walk is not scheduled to be a long one, but there is s sidewalk added for a bit of variety. Lochranza is the northernmost village on the island and even has a ruined castle on the bay.

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I walked out of the hostel and along to the Sandwich Shack for breakfast and a coffee. Then I headed up the hill on a steep farmers driveway past the ruins of the island’s oldest house.

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While I was only 60 metres or so above sea level, the views were still enjoyable out across to the Mull of Kintyre, reminding me of the old song of the same name.

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I rounded the hill with the trail descending a little before it ran behind the long row of houses at Catacol. I climbed down to the road and onto the pebble beach where I picked my way along for the next 4.5km.

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About two-thirds of the way through the day is the side trail, which climbs up the hill to Coire Fhionn Lochan, a small lake nestled in the bowl beneath small peaks. The climb was pretty straightforward to 340m, and I passed several families on my way up. When I got to the small lake, I dropped my pack for a rest and chatted to some other climbers.

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The wind was blustery but not cold. I was told the lake can be a mirror but for the wind, a shame but a good view anyway. After my break, I climbed back down, passing a family that had still not made it to the top. The view back the other way was wonderful.

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When I got back to the road, I continued on along the beach. I arrived at Pirnmill with enough time for a light lunch at the restaurant before they closed until dinner. I hung out in the sunshine and topped up supplies at the shop next door before setting off again along the beach.

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For the next 3.5 km, I picked my way along the beach until I eventually arrived at where my map said was Imacher. But instead of what I thought might be a village, was absolutely nothing. The road went up over the hill, so I took a walk up it and found a small handful of houses, most of them abandoned and overgrown. But when I rounded the corner on one abandoned house, I ran into this male peacock showing his stuff.

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There was an ostentation of peacocks, with several males (peafowl), 3 females and some chicks
. After the show, I headed down to a wild camping spot I’d walked past, pitched my tent and settled in for the rest of the day.

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Day 2 – Inachar to Pien via Blackwaterfoot – 11 mi / 18 km

It had rained overnight but and I had no wild visitors overnight. I had a breakfast of oat biscuits before breaking camp. The sky was dark, and the wind gusty as I set out onto the road.

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Today, walking along the beach was not such an option. It would have been possible but I was racing to avoid the forecasted rain, so I took the quicker alternative along the road. Today is the only day forecast for rain, let’s hope the sun stays for the rest of the week. My first port of call is Cafe Thyme 5km along from my wild camp. The walk was fairly straightforward, and along the way, I even spied seals chilling on some rocks.

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When I arrived at the cafe, they were just opening. They did not serve breakfast, but the waitress organised some scrambled eggs for me anyway. We chatted about life in general and getting out of London, which she had done 10 months earlier. After coffee, I set off and noted a standing stone in a paddock. So, I crossed to get a better look.

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Two kilometres on and I came past Dunedin (the name of a house) to the Machrie Bay Golf Club tea rooms where I bought some water. Then another kilometre further on to car park for the Machrie Moors Standing Stones. I walked the mile to the moors and the several groups of standing stones there…

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…not to mention rock
circles.

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Then, as I made my way back to the road, it began to rain. A mile further along and I came to the Torr Righ Beag, a small wooded National Park. I walked around the outskirts looking back along the coast to where I had started the day (at the furthermost edge of the coast).

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I continued around the path to the coast and before heading down a steep trail to the beach. I walked past the King’s cave, which is caged off, and a pair of natural arches.

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I then set my sights on the Doon Fort, a rock formation where an iron aged fort had once stood.

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I walked around the back and up to the top, getting great views across the bay. After a look around I climbed down the Tor to a golf club where I walked to the beach and along to Blackwaterfoot. I found a bar to wait for the restaurant to open, allowing me to have cider and get my feet out of my sodden boots.

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After dinner a walked the 3 km along roads to the campground where I would encounter plentiful midges but a hot shower!

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Next, days 3 and 4 of the Arran Coastal Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Langkawi Island, Malaysia – Impressions

Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah, as it’s officially known, is Malaysia’s answer to Bali, albeit a much quieter version. Tourists come to the island because of the amazing beaches and the lack of crowds, giving it a more secluded feel than nearby Penang.

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Langkawi, meaning Island of the Reddish-Brown Eagle, was originally believed to be cursed. A beautiful young woman named Mahsuri was accused of adultery and executed on the island. With her dying breath she brought down a curse of bad luck for seven generations. Her tomb is a popular tourist location, although a village has been built around it and fees charged to enter.

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Palau Langkawi is slightly larger than Penang Island and like its southern sister, the best way to get around it is via scooter. Yay! While more expensive to hire than in Penang they’re still cheap at only NZ$12 per day. A tank of gas will cost just over NZ$2 and will get close to two laps around the entire island.

Beaches
Surrounded with beaches of white sand, Langkawi is definitely a picturesque paradise. Most people stay in the touristy Cenang area, with Pantai Cenang perhaps the beach most similar to Kuta Beach in Bali.

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And within walking distance is another popular beach, Pantai Tangah.

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If you have transport, there are more beaches within reach. Only 30 minutes north is the empty Pantai Kok.

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And another 30 minutes through the mountains to the northern side of the island there’s such beauties as Pantai Tanjung Rhu, right near Scarborough Fish n Chips, the best on the island.

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Waterfalls
Scattered around the island are several waterfalls. While they aren’t spectacularly tall or wide, they’re enjoyed by locals and visitors alike as swimming spots. On our scooters, we stopped by at 7 Wells waterfall…

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… and Durian Perangai Falls.

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Oriental Village

Located at the northern end of Pantai Kok, the oriental village is an open air complex surrounding a small lake. It’s an entertainment zone with many different things to do. For the kids, there’s the water balls, round or tubular…

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The village, while not very oriental looking, has elephant rides, eagle viewing, tiger watching and snake cuddling…

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It’s also home to the Skycab, the cable car that takes people to the top of nearby mountains…

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The panoramic views over most of the island are spectacular. While the ascent can be a little breathtaking, the journey is worth it for the views alone.

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Overall, Langkawi is a perfect place to take a break away from the world. With only 65,000 residents, it’s a very peaceful place with a handful of tourist options and many beaches to relax at.

Next we head north for the craziness of Christmas and New Years in Thailand.

The Trail Wanderers

Bali, Indonesia – Adventures

When you have three weeks in Bali you can’t just languish around the pool or at the beach the entire time. Actually, I guess you probably could, but I can’t. There’s just too many other things to see around the island…

Mt Batur

In Bali’s highlands there are several volcanos. Mt Batur is the most active, having erupted 20 times in the last 200 years.

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It’s a fairly small volcano that lies in the caldera of a once more mighty volcano, one that stood over twice Mt Batur’s current height. And on the south-eastern side of the caldera is Danau Batur, the largest crater lake in Bali.

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Coffee Tour

Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world and Bali’s highlands has its share of plantations. During the tour we discovered the many tastes of Bali’s coffees and teas, all of which were delicious, although some were overly sweet.

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Indonesia has a most unusual coffee called Kopi Luwak. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world because the beans are fed to the Asian Palm Civet, collected from its droppings, cleaned and roasted. Enzymes in the animal’s gut react with the beans to give them a rich and smooth flavour.

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There are growing concerns about the ‘farming’ of Kopi Luwak as the animals are held in battery cages and forced to eat the beans. The two animals at the plantation weren’t so cramped in their larger cages although seemed quite disinterested in our being there.

Highland Cycle Tour

A gentle way to see the highlands of Bali is via a bicycle tour. A large group of us ventured out one morning on a tour which started in the highlands and worked its way down quiet roads. This provided plentiful views of rural Bali including many rice paddies.

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We were introduced to many of the local traditions as we rode through several villages and past many small temples, including this temple to the Destroyer, surrounded by palm trees.

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Midget Fun Boxing

Beyond all Bali’s standard evening entertainments of fine dining, drinking, beach-side bands and dancing there’s Midget Fun Boxing. While this might seem like a strange and violent form of entertainment, it’s actually quite fun. Reminiscent of the classic days of WWF wrestling, it’s more of a comedy fare with the midgets wearing gloves that cover more than half of their arms. Midway through a bout the competitors stop to dance to whatever music comes on, head banging to AC/DC or bopping to other types of music. But should one opponent take his attention from the other he gets belted. With a low centre of gravity the midgets are easily knocked over and then it’s a free for all. Here, after knocking his opponent over, this boxer jumped on top and pretended to hump him.

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Between bouts female midgets dance around on stage with some of the younger members of the audience. Cheeky boxers would stuff a boxing glove down their oversized shorts and chase the dancing-girls. Overall it was a fun night with much hilarity. No midgets were hurt in the process, although that can’t be said for this audience member during post event photos.

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Manta Ray Safari

On a hot and humid island in the tropics there’s usually plenty to do out on the water. I took the opportunity to go out by boat and snorkel with Manta Rays. Four metres from wingtip to wingtip these placid creatures fly through water without a care. Unperturbed by us being there they would come up close to have a good look before swimming on.

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Bali also has some very diverse coral reefs, with 500 species of coral recorded around the one island. This is more than the entire Caribbean Sea. We snorkelled around the reefs in the warm waters for much of the day.

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Next, we hired some scooters and checked out some temples, but that for another day…

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bali, Indonesia – Impressions

After seven months working and biding my time in England, I’m back on the road again! This time doing the rounds of Asia.

While you’re never truly alone when travelling, this time I’m being accompanied by my brother for the first 6 months.

To get us started we’re heading to Bali for three weeks to attend a family reunion and to get to know the popular Indonesian tourist mecca.

Indonesia

Paradise in Indonesia

With just over 4 million people, Bali began to gain popularity as a tourist destination in the 1960’s when it was ‘discovered’ by a small group of Australian surfers. Only 3 hours flight from Perth, Bali’s popularity erupted and tourists swept into the island. This influx of foreign money greatly lifted the standard of living on the island.

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During the early 2000s two religious-based terror attacks in tourist areas set the industry back. But in the years that followed the island’s reputation bounced back. Australians make up a large portion of the foreign tourists on the island often giving the impression that there are more Aussies than Balinese. China has the second highest tourist count here.

A Day at the Beach

There are several main tourist areas in Bali, one is Kuta on the south-western coast surrounded by the townships of Legian and Seminyak. With beaches of golden sand, a day at the beach in Bali means hiring deck chairs and relaxing in the heat under a sun umbrella.

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With the deck chairs tended by beach bars there’s easy access to drinks, food, the warm ocean and plentiful bronzed bodies ripe for people watching. But be warned, while you’re relaxing if you should pay even the slightest attention to hawkers on the beach, they’ll appear in swarms trying to selling sunglasses, watches, sarongs, toys, hats, clothes or wanting to massage, paint nails, groom, plait hair and the like. Learn to ignore them and they’ll move on to the next target leaving you to relax in relative peace.

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As the sun sets, deck chairs are replaced with bean bags and the bars begin serving all manner of dinner and cocktails. The hawkers are still active, trying to sell glowing or sparkling light toys, while mosquitos come out dine.

Massages

Walking around the bustling tourist areas there are plentiful spas and massage houses offering all kinds beauty therapies and massages. With the prices averaging between 60,000 and 100,000 rupiah per hour (AU$6 – 10) getting one every 2nd day is easy. And yes, that was AU$6 – 10! Because of the sheer number of massage houses and fierce competition, groups of young women try to coax wandering tourists into the spas with calls of ‘massards’ and the waving of price lists.

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While I’m sure ‘Happy Endings’ can be found if that’s your thing, sticking to reputable outlets and the service will be professional.

Dental Work
Bali has many specialist dental surgeries at a fraction of the price of Australia or New Zealand, so it’s not uncommon to come here for a holiday and get some work done. The dentists are highly qualified and provide top quality services. Thankfully I needed nothing more that a checkup and clean.

Fine Dining
Bali has many restaurants offering all manner of food. This is probably the downside of holidaying on this Indonesian paradise, too much choice. While most restaurants serve traditional local foods such as Nasi Goreng, most serve Western foods too. There are restaurants that specialise in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and American foods, not to mention Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. I particularly enjoyed the Japanese Jazz restaurant for both the food and the live band.

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Prices are close to Australian prices and can add up if eating out every night. However, it’s not difficult to locate local eateries with plentiful great food at cheap prices.

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A popular restaurant, Warung Murah, literally meaning ‘Cheap Restaurant’ in the Kuta area provides excellent food at a good price. If you go over the top and get a large plate, you could pay somewhere close to AU$6 for your meal. Be warned! There are also plentiful local street venders carrying their hot food around on the back of their scooters.

Drinking
Indonesia has an international quality beer named Bintang which is very popular among tourists, especially when served in the Bintang Tower.

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Balinese wine, in many tourist’s opinions however, isn’t up to international standards and with foreign wines being expensive, most stick with the beer. There are plentiful spirits, but only drink the known labelled brands, as the cheaper local brands may include an ethanol blend that has been known to cause death when consumed.

Next, I take a look at some of my adventures on the island paradise of Bali.

The Lone Trail 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

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.

Cancún and Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Impressions

The ultra touristy Cancún at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula is the final destination of my three-month whirlwind tour of Central America and southern Mexico.

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Cancun’s main tourist area is Isla Cancún and was created in the mid 1970s by the Mexican government. The island is actually part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, stretching 1000km from the tip of the peninsula along the entire length of Belize to Honduras. Cancún is renown for being one of Mexico’s two most famous resort cities, the other being Acapulco on the Pacific Coast.

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As Cancún was my final destination, I didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the city, instead preparing for my imminent departure. But I did take a day out to travel an hour along the coast to the popular tourist beach, Playa del Carmen.

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It’s easy to see why the beach town is so popular, the golden sandy beaches and clear blue waters are beautiful. And while the beachfront restaurants and resorts are numerous, they’re not as all-encompassing as those in Tulum, and hour further south.

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It’s been a long adventure through Latin America these past thirteen months but I’m ready for a well-earned rest. While the constant traveling has been both amazing and stressful at the same time, I’ll miss the diverse cultures and the beautiful places I’ve visited, not to mention the challenges of constant change that travel evokes. I do look forward to six months of stability before beginning my next set of travels.

For those few who’ve been following my travels, I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts and photos as much as I’ve enjoyed providing them.

Until my next trip,

The World Wanderer.

Caye Caulker, Belize – Impressions

Belize is a small country on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula. Unlike the countries that surround it, where they speak spanish, Belize’s primary language is english. After a year in spanish speaking countries where I couldn’t fully understand the everyday conversations around me, on arriving in an english speaking country it was a little overwhelming. It was like suddenly being able to read the thoughts of everyone around you.

As I’m nearing the end of my Latin American journey, I’ve chosen to spend only three days in Belize and all of that time on the island of Caye Caulker. Thirty kilometres from Belize City by water taxi, Caye Caulker was made popular by hippies travelling through the area in the 1970s. Since then the tourism industry along the coast has blossomed.

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On first impressions, arriving in Caye Caulker feels like arriving in Jamaica. There’s a strong reggae groove, plenty of locals with dreadlocks wearing rastafarian style clothing and that familiar accent: ‘yeh mon,’ and ‘want some gunga mon.’

One end of the eight kilometre long island is criss-crossed with white sand roads while the other is still claimed by mangroves. There is an estimated 40 hotels, hostels and boarding houses on the island, with fresh fish on the menu of the many waterfront restaurants.

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One of the more popular activities in the region is diving with divers hoping to swim in the infamous Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole 300 metres across and 124 metres deep.

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But as I don’t dive, I chose to snorkel along the Great Barrier Reef and in Shark Alley. So, booking a tour, I set out with a group of fellow snorkelers for a day in the sun on a boat. And what a day it was… We began in Hol Chan marine reserve where the fish knew our arrival meant feeding time. Schools of large fish swum around the boat as our guide took us on a swim around the reef, spying a lone barracuda, sea turtles and even managing to lure a Moray Eel out from its hole in the rocks.

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Along shark alley the Nurse sharks came looking for food. There were probably a dozen of them, some more than three metres long. We were able to ‘pet’ one of them although their scales felt hard to the touch. Then came the Eagle Rays, allowing us to write our names upon their back.

A german girl in a bikini, I mean, a friendly three metre Nurse shark swimming past.

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Back on the island, there are several ways to get around. Most people hire cycles and ride around the unsealed, potholed sandy roads but I chose to hire a golf cart, the only powered land vehicle on the island.

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With my ‘wheels’, I toured the quieter end of the island where there were only a few secluded homes and hotels among the plentiful mangroves.

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Overall, Caye Caulker is a great place to spend a few days if you like water activities, seafood, partying or just hanging around with well-tanned beach clad people.

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Next I head into Mexico, my final Latin American country as I follow the trail of the Mayan Ruins.

The World Wanderer

Flores, El Petén, Guatemala – Impressions

Why the northern province of Guatemala between Mexico and Belize looks like Bart Simpson’s head is anyone’s guess…

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But about where Bart’s eye would be is a lake called Lago de Petén Itzá. And on that lake is the island of Flores.

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Connected to the mainland by a causeway, Flores is a popular tourist destination with plentiful hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars. The island isn’t that large and is easily walked around in about ten minutes, but unfortunately before my arrival substantial rains had caused the lake’s level to rise, flooding the road that runs around the island in several places.

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But flooded or not, water taxis transport locals and tourists alike from the island to many locations including the small colourful settlements around the edges of the lake…

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You can also visit the small island of Santa Barbara which holds the local museum, which was unfortunately also flooded when I arrived.

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On one side of the lake is a lookout, which after a stiff climb provides impressive views of both the island of Flores and other portions of the lake.

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A short Tuk Tuk ride from Flores is Las Cuevas Actun Kan, a natural system of caves being set up as a tourist attraction. When I visited the complex, which stretch through many caverns both large and small, I was the only one there. The silence underground and the sometimes misleading signs had me walking in circles, which I’m sure would be nerve-wracking for some, but something I thoroughly enjoyed as I eventually navigated my way out.

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But Flores isn’t the primary reason most people come to this part of Guatemala. Barely an hour by bus north of Flores in the depths of the jungle is Tikal, a set of Mayan temples and ruins dating back before the birth of Christ.

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I chose to take a tour beginning at lunchtime and ending well after dark, walking for several kilometres to various structures in the spread out complex that once housed around ninety thousand people.
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The tour also included encounters with spider monkeys and this cute little guy, a tarantula…

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Then as it began to grow dark we climbed one of the pyramids to watch the sun set across the jungle and the monumental temples rising from the trees.

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The many temples are a wonder to behold and add to the rich history of Latin America in a similar way as the ruins of Macchu Pichu in Peru, Incapirca in Ecuador and Ciudad Perdida in Colombia.

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My visit to Tikal is the first in a series of Mayan ruins I plan to visit in my last weeks in Latin America.

Next, I travel to the island of Caye Caulker in Belize.

The World Wanderer.