Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New blog!

As our Central America trip is now long over, so is this blog. We're still traveling though, and have a new blog over at Rob and Rachel's Travels. This is where our travel updates will appear from now on.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A photobook of our best pictures from the trip is now available to buy! You can even preview the book before ordering.

By Rob Parle and Rach...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Going Home

It's hard to believe it but our nine months come to an end tomorrow. Today is our very last day in Central America after an unforgettable adventure. We survived a very long journey down from Tapachula, Mexico, back to where it all began- San Jose, Costa Rica. Very kindly, my mum and dad have paid for us to have our final night back in the lovely Pura Vida Hotel (in whose gardens this photo was taken), so we're having a very relaxing last day and looking forward to a delicious meal tonight!

Obviously we've been doing a lot of reflecting on the trip recently; talking about all the amazing highlights like the El Mirador trek, Isla de Ometepe, diving in Honduras and Belize, learning Spanish in Panama and so many more! For me, the best thing has been how endlessly stimulating travel can be. Every day we've seen and experienced surprising and beautiful things and even today we have more questions about Central America than when we first began! We've also met some brilliant people and made some long-lasting friendships, I'm sure. I hope we'll bump into some of you again in some far flung corner of the world one day!!

Having said that, there are so many things we're looking forward to at home, especially our wonderful friends and families. We've missed you all so much and have both vowed to make a lot more time for for visits in the future (please feel free to hold us to this!). Of course, I will really miss my parents being at home to welcome me back (they're living in New Zealand for two years for those who don't know!), but we're looking forward to seeing them soonish. We're planning a trip to down under in September so keep an eye out for the next installment of our world travels!

We'll be back at home early on Thursday 11th and will be staying with Rob's parents in Ashby for a while. Thanks Liz and Greg for putting us up! Can't wait to see you all really soon.

Lots of love from Rachel xx

What's there to add? Some of my highlights have been the lava on Volcán Pacaya, watching nesting turtles in Tortuguero, the beautiful colonial cities of Granada and San Cristóbal de las Casas and the natural beauty of Semuc Champey. One of the (hopefully lasting) things we'll take away is our Spanish; we'll have to find some way to keep practising!

So that our family and friends don't have to be bored by the thousands of photos we've taken on our trip, we've put together a couple of albums: one tells the story of our trip and the other is a collection of the very best photos from the entire 9 months. Enjoy!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Tzotzil Villages

Tzotzil Maya people still retain a lot of their old traditions so a day spent visiting two villages in the highlands of Chiapas was completely fascinating. First stop was San Juan Chamula. This cemetery was a very sobering sight; the black crosses mark the graves of elderly people, green adults and, sadly, white shows children and babies.

The church is beautifully decorated inside and out. Cameras are forbidden inside, which was a shame as we witnessed a healer performing a ritual and villagers worshipping on a pine-needle covered floor. Bizarrely, Coca-Cola is often used in everyday rituals because it induces burping, which is said to expel evil spirits.

We came with a guide as many local people are very wary of outsiders and it is essential to be sensitive when visiting the area. Manuel took us to a home where they have the honour of caring for a figure of a saint for the year. This arch marks the location. Inside we were encouraged to try some pox (pronounced posh), a very strong spirit that is used in a lot of ceremonies. For example, a herbal doctor will spit a mouthful of it over someone who is ill to cleanse them. Oh and it's also an essential part of all fiestas, of course!

In Zinacantán, Manuel showed us the traditional clothes worn by men. Although almost all women still wear the traditional dress, it is much less common to see men using it. Interestingly, the women's heavily embroidered shawls have changed over time; when the village started growing flowers such as lilies and roses to sell across Mexico, the women included these images in their designs.

Here a Tzotzil woman is weaving cotton using the back strap technique.

We visited a house where we saw the importance of maize, or corn, in Mayan life in the past and today. For many centuries the different colours of maize (who knew there were more than one!) have held different significances. White is linked with east and the god of rain, black with the west and god of death, yellow with the north and the god of corn and red represents the god of wind, who is believed to live in the south.

Maize is still the major staple in all Mexican, and especially Mayan diets. This woman made us some delicious tortillas straight from the fire. They had a much stronger taste than the ones used in places like taco stalls.

The children are incredibly beautiful and this shot has to be one of my favourite pictures from the whole trip.

Rachel x

UPDATE: There are many more really nice pictures from the Tzotzil villages; click here to view the whole album.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adventures of the spade #12

The spade also felt the heat of the jungle, and was happy to cool off at the Agua Azul waterfalls. Here he's enjoying a (slightly reckless) ride down one of the smaller falls. Don't worry though, we were on hand to make sure he didn't get washed away!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Campeche and Palenque

It's getting close to the end of the trip now! We still have time to fit a bit more in though. Moving on from Mérida, we spent a couple of nights in Campeche, a beautiful colonial city on the Yucatán coast. The architecture is reminiscent of southern Spain, especially in the leafy, open central plaza where our hostel was located. We had spectacular views of the city at night.

Campeche was fortified against pirates by the Spanish and parts of the fortifications remain, such as the city wall and several of the 'bulwarks' or 'bastions'. These are miniature forts spread along the original line of the seafront (the seafront has since been moved by filling in new land), housing cannon and lookout posts for defending the city.

It was incredibly hot though: an almost unbearable 45°C (113°F) during the mid-afternoon. After a couple of days we couldn't take any more and headed for Palenque.

Palenque was inhabited from around 100 BC and flourished around AD 600-700. It has a fantastic setting surrounded by hilly jungle, making it a very atmospheric place to visit (despite the crowds of tourists). Above is the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Palenque boasts many well-preserved bas-reliefs, depicting major events and glorifying rulers of the city. The one above, which I am imitating, may be of a decapitation, while the scene below shows a soldier (looking left) with captive prisoners from another Mayan city-state. Other carvings around the site still show some colour on them (thanks to the long-lasting pigment made from squashed beetles).

One of the best things to see is in the site museum. A reproduction of the giant sarcophagus of king K'inich Hanab Pakal (who died aged 80 in AD 683), found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions, is displayed inside a special exhibition space that shows the size, shape and interior decoration of the original tomb. As the tomb itself is now sealed inside the temple following its discovery, it's a great way to imagine what's inside.

After the heat and humidity of the steamy jungle, a visit to the nearby Agua Azul (blue water) waterfalls is highly recommended. It's a series of cool freshwater pools which make for great swimming.

Rach always loves a swim (I think she aims for at least one a day if possible), and particularly enjoyed the refreshing dip here. Perfect for relaxing after a day's sightseeing!


Friday, May 29, 2009


The Mayan ruins at Uxmal are just an hour and a half from Mérida. On the strength of a recommendation from our friend (and Maya fanatic) Ric, we visited the site on a day trip.

Uxmal was home to the Puuc Maya, and has a very different style to other ruins like Chichén Itzá; the Temple of the Magician (above) in particular, with its rounded corners, shows just how different.

The buildings are covered with ornate and very well-preserved decoration, such as this snake. We had the whole site almost to ourselves, which was a nice change from Chichén Itzá, where tourists and people selling souvenirs fill the site.

The ring in the photo above was part of the ball court, and was used in the Mayan ball game. No-one is quite sure exactly how the game was played, except that the ball was very heavy and could only be hit with the hip or shoulder. It's thought that points were scored by getting the ball through the ring, which was difficult - games could last all day. What is fairly certain is that the game carried great importance for the Maya. Ball courts are found in many Mayan cities, usually in prominent, central positions.

Uxmal was a fascinating and enchanting site to visit, made all the more enjoyable because it was so quiet. It's incredibly hot here at this time of year though - mid-afternoon temperatures can reach the mid 40s Celsius - so once again we scurried back to the hostel and straight into the pool!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mérida and Chichén Itzá

We've spent much longer in Mérida than we expected. It's an attractive, if busy, city with a lovely Plaza Grande and a lot of life.

We met up with our friend from uni, Tom, who is living here in Mexico in a city called Villa Hermosa. We had a great time doing some day trips with him and hanging out in the lovely Nomadas hostel. The best thing about it is the fantastic swimming pool, which is essential after a scorching day with temperatures in the 40s!

Look at these incredible hammocks hanging over the water!

We went to the nearby Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins, which were very impressive.

At the hostel we've met lots of friendly people and a couple of them joined us for the trip. OB, from Denmark, and Matt, from Canada, kept us entertained throughout! Here they are with Tom and Rob at the Plaza de mil columnas or Thousand column square.

I loved the faces used to decorate the buildings.

The heat got to us in the end, though, and, after a few hours exploring the ruins, it was straight back to the pool!

Rachel x

Thursday, May 21, 2009


With the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico a few weeks ago, we thought that our plan to take in a little bit of the country at the end of our trip was going to be thwarted. However, with the situation now under control (and the Foreign Office no longer advising against all but essential travel), we're very excited about having the chance to see more of Mexico. We left Belize by road to the North, heading up to Tulum on the Yucatán coast.

Tulum (meaning 'wall' in Mayan) was a fairly significant Maya city in the Yucatán area. What makes it most attractive to tourists is its incredible location, perched on the cliffs right above the Caribbean sea. On the downside, its proximity to Cancún means it's ended up a little over-produced, and a lot of the ruins are cordoned off to visitors. We did our best to capture the stunning cliff-top location in a photo, but we couldn't escape the 'I could get a much better shot from over there if it wasn't for that rope/huge tour group' feeling.

The ruins are home also to a huge number of Green Iguanas. They lounge about the place, basking in the sun and seeming to observe the tourists. We think there's something faintly amusing about them, but can't put our finger on what that is.

We're looking forward to seeing some more of what the Yucatán has to offer, and hoping that perhaps we'll have it a bit more to ourselves as we head away from the coast.


Adventures of the spade #11

Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce, found on every table in Belize, is the spade's new favourite table condiment. Ours too, as it happens. Marie grows most of the (all natural) ingredients herself at the factory in Dangriga. We're trying to work out now how many bottles we have space to bring home...


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Caye Caulker

We went on a great snorkeling trip from Caye Caulker, a larger and much more touristy caye (island) off Belize. The day was spent aboard a sailing boat listening to reggae, admiring the view and making frequent stops to have a good look at the abundant wildlife in the water. Here's our guide Steve on the look out for the rare manatees that live in the area.

Although we missed being deep under the water, the snorkelling did still give us the chance to see some wonderful things!

I think this is my ultimate wildlife spot of the trip (and that's saying something!). We spent a good 10 minutes floating around with this incredible manatee, who did not seem to mind the very strange creatures splashing all around her! She was totally calm and had a good look at us all. Once she decided she´d had enough, though, she was off into the blue. Amazing.

These stingrays circle the boats looking for scraps from the fishermen´s catch. They come really close and, at about 1 metre across, it was a little disconcerting at times. Impressive things, though.

Here's a lovely Hawksbill turtle nibbling on the grass.

Tired but delighted by the snorkeling we drifted back to Caye Caulker sipping on a typical Belizean rum punch.

Rachel x