Sunday, July 29, 2007

the last post

Well thats it from me for now.

The trip is over so there is nothing else to write about.

I will be adding a lot of new photos from the trip to my Flickr site soon which you can access from the Flickr badge on this page if you are interested in seeing more.

Otherwise, thanks for taking the time to read and follow my little adventure!

(I will be leaving the blog online as it will be useful for my next trip - and as many of you who know me know - it might not be so far away!)

xx Terry

Thursday, July 26, 2007

homeward bound

I arrived at SF International airport 4 (FOUR!!!!) hours early in order to make sure I had a window seat home. I have a lot of trouble sleeping on planes but if I have the fuselage to put a pillow against then there is a better chance of Morpheus finding me, albeit briefly.

The midget Gestapo officer at United check in barked at me that "window - all gone."

"But...but 4 hours..."

"All gone. You can have aisle seat."

"...4 hours..."

I knew it was pointless to argue with her, I knew by the diagonal scar across her face from eyesocket to chin and the bolts through her neck that she wasnt putting up with any nonesense from some scruffy unshaven interloper looking for a comfortable ride home.

She was also impatiently rapping her luggage marker against her thigh like a riding crop so i meekly pocketed my boarding pass and slunk away.

4 hours.

30 minutes before the flight departure time a voice over the PA announced

"All passengers on UA 838 bound for Sydney please note. The flight is fully booked. So those who where hoping for a seat change Tough Titties. (Im paraphrasing here...) We have overbooked this flight by 17 passengers.

Collective groan.

This usually means finding people to offload.

Then the call came. The one you dread.

"Would Mr. T. Culver please come to the front desk."

I had the uneasy feeling the flight home wasn't going to be easy. I broke into a cold sweat. The woman at the counter asked to see my boarding pass - I handed it to her and right in front of me she ripped it up.

She then handed me another one and said "Mr Culver, as full fare paying passenger we are upgrading you to Business Class. Here is your new seat allocation enjoy your flight."

Take THAT you demon bitch midget check-in troll. ah ha ha ha ah hah ha ha ha...

As it turns out, not only was I Business Class - but I was UPSTAIRS Business Class. (Nyaaah!!) The man in the seat next to me, who introduced himself as Eric from Wyoming, elucidated. Roomier, he said, and you get oh 20-25 flight attendants per passenger upstairs. He books his flight 12 years ahead to make sure he always gets upstairs.

Well I sank into the plush luxury of the UPSTAIRS seats as a bevy of attendants flurried around satisfying our needs. Soon we both had drinks in our hands but before 2 sips had passed my lips, Eric, by way of an extravagant gesture, tipped his entire glass of champagne down my left leg.

He rushed up disappeared and came back with 2 serviettes and an unopened can of soda water. Was he offering me a mixer for my orange juice?

Fortunately I was wearing my trekking pants which have zip off legs so long pants can become shorts.

So not 5 minutes into my foray into middle and upper class luxury airtravel I was in the airplane toilet washing out my trouser legs in the sink.

I guess you can take the boy out of the back packer but not the backpacker out of the boy.

The other thing I found amusing were the two main male flight attendants monitoring our section of Business.

You know how 2 dancers, or ice skaters or even factory workers who work long and hard together can form a harmonious choreography where they seem almost like an individual unit, as opposed to two seperate beings?

Well these two were the antithesis of that.

They were a bumbling, forgetful and clumsy couple that reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy type duo - except one looked like Hiro from Heroes and the other resembled someone who was trying very hard to look like a retired English Army Major.

At one stage there was a crash of glasses and crockery as their two trolleys collided in the aisle and I glanced up from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to observe a cherry tomato rolling slowly down the centre of the aisle veering away to settle somewhere under seat 15B.

Several times Hiro would approach me start to say something and then utter. "Oh..umm..oh" and then back away. (I think it was me being Vegetarian and not on their official passenger list that threw them into confusion)

But having settled back into the fully extended seat which felt like an entire single bed on a slight downward slope I could have dealt with anything.

And so I slept.

And now Im home.

i left my bart* in san francisco.

I didnt really know what to expect from San Francisco.

I was staying in Union Square which is as good as any other place to be.

I stopped here one night because my flight home came via S.F. and it seemed like a good way to break up the homeward journey.

By the time I settled into my hostel room and got the shopping out of the way (it was my mission to buy 4 new pairs of Levis as they are about a third the cost of in Sydney and Macys was 2 blocks from where I was staying)it was getting late in the day.

As I think I mentioned early in this blog I loathe clothes shopping. So the buying experience was a bit like using a public toilet in India - hold your breathe, race in, take care of business and race out before you lose consciousness.

It was all over so quickly the sales girl didnt even have a chance to focus on me. She was so happy that I bought 6 pairs of jeans (they work on commission I found out) she gave me an extra 11% discount on already discounted goods.

So that done, I was left with pretty much all the next day to sight see.

It was fairly predictable - walk from Union Square over Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill (getting the picture yet?) to Fishermans Wharf - the SF equivalent of Darling Harbour thought much more "lived in" (read: shabby)

The famous fog was omnipresent which gave the city a haunting quality which had the effect of putting everything in soft focus thus abrading a lot of its hard edges.

I took a boat tour which whizzed me around the bay, under the bridge and around alcatraz and back again in an hour. (The aquatic equivalent of the shopping experience) I figured it was probably the best way to actually see the bridge as from more than 100 metres away one could see zilch.

I was particularly unmoved by the bridge, despite it looming out of the fog in a Stephen King kind of way. I guess I would have liked it to have done something. Fallen down maybe - or at least swayed. However I was momentarily entranced by the antics of a nearby seal for a few seconds. And by a small bit of paper that drifted by in the wind.

Back on shore I wandered around some other bits of town that I recognised from songs and then it was time to go. SF didn't really feel like part of my trip as it is on the way home. I liked the feel of the place I just think I need to spend more time there.

One thing that particularly struck me was the number of homeless people and beggars.

After all the time I spent wandering through Mexico, Cuba, Belize and Guatemala I dont remember seeing many or any beggars and homeless people. I had to come to the Land of the Free and the centre of Democracy for that.

*BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit - a zippy little rail system which gets you from the International airport to downtown SF

chance art

this was a section of corrugated walling in Antigua which I passed by often.

I loved it.

and a few last photos from Antigua.

Adios Guatemala - you were great.

Monday, July 23, 2007

breakfast belch

This morning I was on the roof of the hostel admiring the view.

One of the three volcanoes on the edge of Antigua (Fuego) decided to blow off some steam while I was watching.

loving lava

Friday I decided that two days staring at a lake, no matter how beautiful and incredible, was enough. The volcanoes were not likely to explode any time soon so I thought I would head back to Antigua for my last two days as it was such a great place.

I came back to The Yellow House where I had stayed on my previous visit. It is a great little hostel, friendly with great views from the roof. They also provide free breakfast and free internet.

Coming back gave me the chance to do the volcano trek.

Pacaya is about an hour away and is continuously active. There have been several extensive new lava flows in the past few years, and the current walking track to the base of the volcano is new as the previous path now lies under a lava flow.

The climb was tricky as the surface on the way up is very unstable. In many places there is still extremely hot lava as little as 30cms below the crust. A point reinforced when our guide poked his walking stick into a small gap between the rocks we were walking on and it promptly ignited into flame.

We climbed up alongside a current lava flow where we could see up close the molten lava rolling very slowly like extra thick toffee down the side of the volcano. The ground underfoot was very hot to the point where I could smell the melting rubber on the base of my sandals.

The volcano seemed to grumble its discontent at our presence by spewing up large amounts of molten rock which even surprised our guide at its ferocity. We could also hear the deep growling rumbles from the inside of the volcano itself.

Quite an extraordinary adventure. Felt a bit like Frodo on Mt. Doom.

Antigua by night

Volcano Pacaya

The end of the 2006 lava flow

the ascent

cooled lava up close

Pacaya having a dummy spit

too close for comfort

Friday, July 20, 2007

last days

The bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlan was quite spectacular as the road passes through the mountains and takes a torturous route with innumerable hairpin bends with a final wriggly route down the mountains to the lake itself. This last section was during a fierce rainstorm which had the road completely inundated with small rivers of mud and rolling rocks making it quite a hazardous journey.

Once at the lakes edge I had a further journey to make by boat to where I was spending the next couple of nights - a small cove which contains basically just the one hotel.

This was my little bit of luxury as the hotel is really VERY nice. It has probably the best views of the lake (see pix) I have a free standing cabin on the hillside with amazing views. In the evening the hotel puts on a group dinner whereby all the guests (except for the snotty precious ones who wouldnt dare sit with the hoi polloi) sit around a long table and eat together.

Lake Atitlan is basically a giant sunken crater formed aeons ago which then developed several volcanoes on its perimeter. There are numerous villages around its rim, Panajachel being the most popular and is where I came by boat this morning to catch a bus to chichicastenango, a village in the mountains, where there is a weekly market on.

Chi-chi is the first place I have been in Guatemala where I have been pestered by hawkers trying to sell tacky souvenirs. Not that I blame them, they are only trying to make a living - but they are a bit like flies around the dinner table (I have a whipper-snapper in this cyber cafe wanting to polish my sandals!)

Guatemala is a great place with extremely friendly people. It takes a while to get used to people saying good morning to you for no other reason than to be friendly. On arrival in this country, the first couple of buenas dias and I´m saying ¨no I dont want to buy a plastic imitation jade mayan death mask thank you very much¨ It takes a while to settle into the friendliness of the place.

chi chi markets

Lake Atitlan

the hotel from the lake

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

antigua continued

some random pix from Antigua.

Love it here.

Great courtyards and cakes.