The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala
In a sentence...another beautiful spot in Guatemala.
Food we loved...the spectacular yoghurt/fruit/granola concoction pictured below. What a delicious dessert.
San Pedro is one of the towns set on beautiful Lake Atitlan and was a great place to spend a couple of relaxing nights away from Antigua. We only had one full day here which we spent exploring the nooks and crannies of the town’s backpacker ghetto and kayaking on the lake.
After our last kayaking attempt it has taken Nick about 6 years to get me in a kayak again. I hated every minute of our sea kayaking trip in Byron Bay which involved rough seas (by my standards) and being saturated with sea water. The sole highlight? The Tim-Tams we got to eat on the beach at the end. Luckily this kayaking trip was a lot more enjoyable and Nick might not have to wait so long for the next one.
San Pedro was one of those special places where the planets aligned and we found a nice cafe with good coffee, a delicious brownie (served with ice cream!) and whiled away an entire morning discussing the future. Our future, by the way, will magically involve very little work but enough money to live in a fabulous house decorated with travel purchases (despite the fact that we have not purchased many souvenirs and I do not have any decorating flair). Time spent in our humble abode will be punctuated with long stints in exotic locations.
Something tells me we might find the return to “real life” a little difficult...
Next stop...Copan, Honduras.
Antigua & surrounds, Guatemala
In a sentence...a lovely colonial town where we could easily have settled for a few months.
Food we loved...it’s a tie between the deliciously garlicky felafel pita at Toko Baru and the typical Guatemalan lunches served at Rincon Tipico. We ate really well in Antigua.
Antigua is an utterly gorgeous colonial town conveniently located less than an hour from Guatemala’s much less appealing capital city, the imaginatively named Guatemala City. It’s filled with colourful buildings and churches and surrounded by volcanoes – a stunning combination. As if that wasn’t enough, there are plenty of delicious cheap restaurants and even a few cafes selling good coffee.
Whilst in Antigua we finally invested in some desperately needed Spanish lessons with the very gentle and patient Brenda. Whilst three four hour sessions was the most efficient use of the limited time we had available my brain was absolutely fried by the end of each day. Only time will tell whether we have actually retained anything useful.
We spent two mornings trekking to the Brazilian embassy in Guatemala City so that we could get visas allowing us into Brazil. Fairly vital if we want to get to Carnivale. It was during these trips that we were able to gain a full appreciation for Central America’s “chicken buses”. These buses are the preferred transport method of everyday Guatemalans and a very cheap alternative for tourists like us. When American school buses are retired they are sold at auction and driven down to Central America where they are given a new lease on life via a vibrant paint job and, usually, the addition of some Jesus paraphernalia. Some of our favourites are pictured below, they are just fantastic.
In between all the administrative tasks we found the time for some leisure activities as well. We spent a morning climbing Volcano Pacaya for beautiful views of the surrounding areas and other nearby volcanoes. We also used our newly acquired Spanish to navigate the chicken buses once again for a trip out to the macadamia farm where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of macadamia pancakes with blueberries and macadamia butter.
As we left Antigua we ventured into the mountains to visit the famous Thursday markets in Chichicastenango. This was the perfect place to buy one of those huge striped blankets they decorate Tex Mex restaurants with back home and, as per usual, I found it difficult to point at things with my eyes rather than my fingers. As soon as you point at something the vendor knows you are interested and it’s very difficult to escape. But escape I did, filled with regret that we didn’t buy half a dozen of the gorgeous blankets.
After five fabulous nights, Antigua is the early front runner for my favourite town/city in Central America and it will take a pretty special place to knock it off its perch.
Next stop...San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala.
Lanquin & Semuc Champey, Guatemala
In a sentence...stunning natural beauty in the middle of nowhere.
Food we loved...the themed buffet dinners El Retiro hostel served each night. Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican...all the meals were delicious.
Semuc Champey is a natural 300 metre limestone bridge over the Cahabon River. On top of the “bridge” is a series of gorgeous cascading turquoise pools. It’s testament to the magic of this natural attraction that so many people make the trek there despite the fact that it’s a pretty rough 8-9 hour drive each way from other destinations. We could have simply taken an overnight bus from Flores to Antigua but I’m so glad we made the time to detour to Lanquin and visit Semuc Champey. It is a very special part of the world.
I haven’t loved a hostel as much as I loved El Retiro since we stayed at Attila’s Getaway in Selcuk (Turkey) back in August. Our room was basic but it had everything we needed and the surroundings were just gorgeous – a tropical garden and a view of the river. Each night a delicious buffet dinner was served and it was so relaxing to sit around with a drink or two patting the resident dogs and chatting to new friends. We met so many great people there.
Our first full day in Lanquin was spent on an enormous day trip to Semuc Champey. We had a fabulous group that included two Dutch couples, three Pakistani girls studying in New York, a lovely English guy and an over-achiever who was half Swiss and half Spanish. She swapped between English and Spanish with ease. Presumably she also speaks several different languages in Switzerland. Damn these multilingual Europeans!
The day started with a guided tour through a cave which involved wading, climbing up (or across) a waterfall and swimming. All while holding a candle above your head. Mine got snuffed out about ten times. Describing it as “caving” probably makes it sound a bit more hardcore that it really was although there was a part where you had to jump through a human size hole which was filled with waterfall. I had an absolute meltdown and was fairly traumatised after that section.
Back out in the sunshine we jumped in inflatable tires and tubed down the river for a while, trying desperately to avoid the large numbers of children hurtling towards us on their own tubes trying to sell us beers. Unfortunately the little girls who had been selling locally made chocolate stayed on dry land.
After lunch we hiked through the mud to a lookout with great views of the cascading pools. It was every bit as gorgeous as I expected. After that we popped down to water level for a spot of swimming.
We bonded easily with our group as we spent 45 minutes each way travelling over exceedingly bumpy roads while crowded into the back of a ute. On the way back it poured with rain. As we were huddled miserably under a tarp trying in vain to stay dry a couple of the girls lit up cigarettes and one of the Pakistani girls commented that it felt like we were in a Marlboro commercial. She obviously had a better imagination than the rest of us.
The second day was a bit more relaxing. We explored the tiny town of Lanquin and managed to find a little taco stall next to a watermelon stand – perfect. We walked along the river for an hour or so admiring the surrounding mountains before retiring for the day with a gin and tonic and a homemade chocolate chip biscuit.
After three blissful nights at El Retiro I was sad to leave a wonderful place that had very quickly begun to feel like home.
Next stop...Antigua, Guatemala.
Posted 26 January 2015
Flores & Tikal, Guatemala
In a sentence...a great place to start our time in Guatemala.
Food we loved...homemade chocolate cake that we bought from little street stalls set up next to the lake. Almost as good as my Mum’s.
Flores is a gorgeous little town located on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten, joined to the mainland by a bridge. It’s so small you can walk around it in about 15 minutes. Almost all of the colourful bars and restaurants in town overlook the picturesque lake which adds to the relaxed vibe. That and the very cheap cocktails.
Our main reason for coming to Flores was to visit Tikal, the ruins of an ancient Mayan city tucked away in the Guatemalan jungle. Which is why we found ourselves hopping on a mini bus at 4.30am the next morning. Given the hot and humid weather, it’s best to see Tikal early in the day.
We spent a fabulous couple of hours wandering and barely saw another person apart from at the biggest temples. Temple 4 was my favourite. Here, we climbed to the top for stunning views of the surrounding jungle with various ruins jutting out amongst the fog. It was an unforgettable moment.
Aside from that, we spent the rest of our time in Flores eating tacos. They were cheap and delicious no matter which stall we bought them from. After only two nights in Flores (and approximately 24 tacos) I can already tell that we are going to love Guatemala.
Next stop...Lanquin and Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
Caye Caulker, Belize
In a sentence...a beautiful Caribbean island.
Food we loved...the breakfast sandwich at Cafe Paradiso. A crusty roll stuffed full with omelette, roasted capsicum and onion, smoked ham and cheese. Big enough to feed the two of us.
Our time on Caye Caulker was a nice continuation of our Christmas holiday. Not that it was easy to get there. A 3 hour bus in arctic conditions (seriously, I wore my ski jacket), a short taxi ride, 4 hours on the “local” bus pictured below (no need for a ski jacket here), another short taxi ride, a 45 minute boat ride – and we were there.
Luckily we stepped off the boat and straight into an island paradise. After the first sip of margarita the many hours of travel to get there just melted away. Belize was a part of the British empire until 1981 and English is still the official language which made communication very easy. The town is also full of laidback rastas offering whatever illicit substance takes your fancy. Nick was limping due to a fall he had in Mexico and one enterprising rasta suggested that he should sell us some marijuana – for medicinal purposes of course.
On Caye Caulker we really took doing nothing to a new level. We spent our two days there wandering the (very small) town, drinking a beer or two and swimming down at the Split and eating delicious food for every meal.
All too soon it was time to leave Caye Caulker (and Belize) and return to reality. It was a lovely distraction for a few days.
Next stop...Flores, Guatemala.
Isla Mujeres & Tulum, Mexico
In a sentence...just what the doctor ordered.
Food we loved...barracuda freshly caught by us, smothered with some sort of Mexican marinade and grilled on the BBQ. Amazing.
As our friends and family at home were packing up and heading down the coast for a Christmas holiday, we did a similar thing and headed to Mexico.
Our first stop was Isla Mujeres, an island about 15 minutes by boat from Cancun. We had little on our agenda other than relaxation.
Just like everyone else on their Christmas “holiday”, we didn’t do much while on Isla Mujeres. A typical day involved a sleep-in, a wake-up swim and a wander around the town, tacos for lunch at our favourite little restaurant, perhaps another swim, a beer or two on the beach and a rest before a delicious dinner washed down with a cocktail or two. While we were there we celebrated Nick’s birthday and welcomed 2015.
I arranged a fishing trip for Nick’s birthday and so we spent an action packed morning cruising around the island in our own private boat reeling in plenty of barracuda, and one marlin that had to be thrown back in. Our haul is pictured below. Afterwards we took one of the barracudas to a restaurant on the beach and they cooked it for us. We thought the fish was probably too big just for the two of us but we pushed through and managed to eat it all. What an amazing meal.
January 1st dawned and we found some energy to walk around the perimeter of the entire island. It ended up being a 3 hour, 15 kilometre trip which included gorgeous ocean views, plenty of sunken boats, encounters with very large lizards and being chased by a stray dog.
En route to Belize we spent a night in Tulum so we could see the Mayan ruins which are right on the beach. Needless to say, the location was stunning and the ruins themselves were quite impressive. And the tacos we had for dinner that night were the best we had tried in Mexico – make-your-own chorizo and chicken with a variety of sauces and salad items.
We left Mexico feeling relaxed and re-energised for another few months of travelling.
Next stop...Caye Caulker, Belize.Posted 18 January 2015
In a sentence...a completely different side of the United States.
Food we loved...plantain cups filled with chicken, a traditional Cuban dish. Plantain is from the same family as the banana but tasted more like potato.
I don’t expect to receive any sympathy from those of you at home but what a relief it was to get back to tropical warmth and sunshine after almost 10 weeks of Winter weather. Miami was just what we needed and, coincidentally, it was the perfect mix of the US and Central America to ease us into the next phase of our trip.
Miami is a very interesting city and could not be more different to New York. The weather is steamy and sultry, we heard more Spanish being spoken than English and there are plenty of art deco style buildings to add a sense of old world style to the waterfront area. We stayed at South Beach which was filled with holiday-makers.
Of course, we did a trip on an airboat through the Everglades hunting for alligators. We were lucky enough to see quite a few which was pretty exciting. My favourite was the mother alligator we spotted once we were back on dry land who had three tiny babies on her back. They were so cute!
After a few false starts (seriously, we had to go to three different bike docking stations) we hired bikes and cruised along the Venetian Causeway which crosses Biscayne Bay from Miami Beach to mainland Miami. We rode through 6 stunning man-made islands which seem to be the playground of the exceedingly wealthy.
We finished off with a DIY food tour of Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban district, where we sampled the plantain cups mentioned above.
I cannot believe that Miami and New York City are in the same country. We are really looking forward to sampling and comparing a few other US cities at the end of our trip. Stay tuned.
Next stop...Isla Mujeres & Tulum, Mexico.
New York City, USA: Part Two
No trip to New York (or the US for that matter) would be complete without a bit of sport and we were lucky enough to see the following:
But we didn’t just leave the sport to the professionals. We squeezed in a couple of runs around Prospect Park and Central Park. We spent our final afternoon ice skating in the sunshine. Whilst I had expected to break a limb undertaking this activity I was surprised to discover that I really loved it. Nick had to practically drag me off the ice when it was time to leave.
Most visitors to New York take in a show on Broadway. Perhaps the Lion King, Les Miserable or the flavour of the month, Matilda. Not us. When Nick mysteriously informed me we were going to a show for my Christmas present I knew we would be seeing something obscure. And I was not wrong.
We saw an hilarious and quirky performance of Macbeth by the Drunk Shakespeare Society. As the name suggests, one of the members of the cast proceeded to get drunk throughout the course of the performance. The play was stopped intermittently for him to perform some sort of physical challenge or to make outrageous requests to other cast members when he got bored with the way things were proceeding. Lady Macbeth was forced to perform one of her most intense monologues in Chinese, for example.
Museums and memorials
I spent an afternoon at the fantastic Museum of Modern Art while Nick explored the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum which is located on a 250 metre aircraft carrier moored in the Hudson River.
I found the September 11 memorial particularly moving. For the first time I truly understood the enormous size of the buildings the planes crashed into. As we wandered around the cascading pools I was haunted by images of people jumping out of the burning buildings in absolute desperation.
We enjoyed a fabulous and slightly unusual Christmas Day. We treated ourselves to a sleep-in and then ran the 10k loop around Central Park. This was a great way to see the park in its entirety and to really understand just how big it is.
Given the location of our Manhattan apartment it seemed only fitting that we enjoyed a dumpling crawl for lunch.
Christmas dinner was perhaps Nick’s greatest ever culinary triumph. Our feast included beer can chook, scalloped potato, prawns and beetroot, pumpkin and feta salad. All that was followed up with pumpkin pie Nick made from scratch. We certainly went to bed with full bellies that night. I was so full I forgot to watch Griswald’s Christmas Vacation which Nick had downloaded specially for me.
We left New York City utterly exhausted but filled with fantastic memories of everything that we were able to see and do.
Next stop...Miami, USA.Posted 16 January 2015
New York City, USA: Part One
In a sentence...fabulous. Of course.
Food we loved...our Christmas day feast (both lunch and dinner). Closely followed by the dinner we ate at Buddakan.
I totally loved New York City but, then again, I expected nothing less.
We had a mammoth 11 nights here, the longest we have stayed anywhere so far. We spent most of our time in Brooklyn in a cute little spot between Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. We were within running distance of Prospect Park, Central Park’s lovely little sister.
We spent our final 4 nights in a fantastic apartment on Manhattan. Whilst technically located in Little Italy, the area is fast being overtaken as Chinatown stretches its borders and it really did feel like we were in the heart of dumpling land.
It was so much fun pretending to be real New Yorkers when we got “home” to our apartment each night. I think we did a pretty good job of soaking up all that the city has to offer – seeing the sights, sport, exploring the neighbourhoods, visiting museums and, of course, eating plenty of delicious food.
New York is one of those few places where everything feels eerily familiar. You feel like you’ve seen everything a million times before in movies and TV shows. Highlights included:
In addition to the above, my lovely sisters sent us on a Christmas Eve tour of New York’s holiday lights. The tour took us to the Lincoln Centre, the Time Warner building, Rockefeller Centre (where we witnessed a proposal on the ice) and the Christmas windows along Fifth Avenue. We smuggled a bottle of eggnog on board with us and had a great time.
It will come as no surprise that we made a beeline to Katz Deli for our first lunch in New York. Well, I made a beeline while Nick dutifully followed. Whilst it is expensive, their famous pastrami sandwich was moist and so tasty.
One of the highlights of our time in New York was the food tour we undertook of Chelsea Market and the Meatpacking District. We were ably assisted by our very camp tour guide Curt who regaled us with tales of his beloved pug (and pseudo son), Michael, while explaining the history of the area and the market. Tastings included scones with jam and marmalade, gourmet salt, a mouth-watering spaghetti bolognese, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate milk, donuts, cheeses, steak tartar, crostini and meat pies. Several people failed to show up for the tour and some others left very early which meant there was an over abundance of tastings for the rest of us. By the end of the tour we were well and truly stuffed.
Of course we ate our fair share of chilli dogs purchased from street vendors. Whilst they were always delicious I was surprised by how small they were. Isn’t this the land of huge portion sizes and morbid obesity?
We splurged on two special dinners at Aldea (Portugese) and Buddakan (Asian) and brunch at French style Balthazar. Both the dinners were excellent and we agreed that Buddakan may have been the best meal of our entire trip. Balthazar, however, could not live up to my lofty brunching expectations.
We hunted out good flat whites at Aussie owned cafes like Milk Bar and Two Hands. Nick also dabbled in some American style coffee which is ridiculously cheap, comes in a very large cup and can be customised with various sugary liquids.
But perhaps our favourite discovery was the humble bagel. At home, the only bagels I have encountered are dry and sad looking, usually the last item left on a platter of sandwiches at a K&L Gates lunchtime CPD seminar. But while staying in Brooklyn we frequented the very cute Lula’s Bagels who not only sold delicious bagels but a tempting range of cream cheese fillings including pumpkin and walnut, raspberry, sundried tomato and cinnamon and raison. I will never look at bagels the same way again.
We enjoyed exploring our “home town” neighbourhoods of Crown Heights and Chinatown. We spent a Saturday morning at the Brooklyn Flea Market admiring unique furniture, homewares and other bits and bobs we couldn’t afford. We also spent an afternoon in Williamsburg, the hipster suburb of Brooklyn which is filled with good street art and shops selling vintage clothes or antiques.
We did a free walking tour of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown which was a great way to see bits of the area that we had not yet discovered ourselves. We wandered through a Chinese food market where you could buy live eels and frogs and finished off the tour with dumplings purchased for us by the guide. At first we thought he was so generous but it turns out that the little hole-in-the-wall sold 5 dumplings for $1.00.
TO BE CONTINUED...Posted 12 January 2015Special thanks to Jemma and Anna for sending us on the New York: See the Lights tour xoxo.