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The Smug Amigos Do Central America

a travel blog by Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin

The last leg of our trip is a whirlwind tour of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Enjoy.
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Hola Mehicko!

Mexico, Mexico

Mexico City is the third largest city in the world, with a population of 25 million people. Driving out of the airport, the lights illuminated the city sprawl as far as the eye could see. The depressing grey slums stretch for miles and miles, however once you get into the city centre, the outward signs of poverty disappear and reveal a surprisingly impressive array of architecture. We were initially staying in the Zocolo by the largest cathedral in Latin America. Next to this was what we believe could well be the largest flag ever created, at least the size of a football pitch. In order to get to grips with the history of Mexico, we visited the Anthropoloigical Museum where aside from learning about the progressing Mexican culture, we saw one hell of a lot of pottery. Even in our fine physical peaks, we couldn´t face covering the distance that is Mexico City Centre by foot. Instead we took an open-top bus which visited all the major tourist attractions such as the affluent area of Polanco, the historical Paseo De La Reforma and Chapultepec Park.

On our third day in Mexico City, we moved on to Hostel Amigo where it was impossible to pass through the reception/bar area without involuntarily having tequila poured down your throat by the energetic barman. We experienced some true Mexican culture when we took a group trip to the Mexican Wrestling Stadium. It turned out to be similar to WWF- very staged, extremely camp entertainment featuring lots of beefcakes in spangly leotards and gimp masks with bikini clad women parading the stadium and..........a token midget. Of course. A favourite was ´Maximo´the only gay in the ring, whose flouncing around brought his opponent man-hulks to their knees. Our authentic Mexican night continued as we were taken to a salsa club which featured a 12 piece Mexican band. Unlike a night in Jaxx, where we will happily bop on our own, we were continually accosted by Mexican men insisting we allowed them a dance. Humorous attempts at salsa lessons began with ample hip gyrating and twirling, revealing that those Mexican men can really move. The English among us got fully involved and dominated the dance floor all night. It was on this dancefloor that something magical happened.......as the Mexicans retreated for a mass breather, only seven were left standing, one thing untiting them all......terribly over-enthusiastic dancing. Team England was born, its members being all four of the smug amigos plus Oxford boys Aly, Nick and Sebastian.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed to Teotihuacan which is a 2000 year old lost Mayan City. Here we scaled the Pyramid of the Sun, the 3rd largest in the world and strolled down Calle De Los Muertes (Street of the Dead). In 650 AD it was the 6th largest city in the world, a religious and economic centre until much of the city was destroyed by a fire and for unknown reasons fell into decline. It must have been an impressive sight when the pyramids were painted their original blood red and illuminated by the sunlight.

After a throroughly enjoyable stay in Mexico City, we moved on to Oaxaca. We were lucky to be able to visit this picturesque town as just a few months ago the state was closed to tourists, due to political unrest. There had in fact been a huge protest just a few days prior to our arrival and although we saw the remains of a few barricades, it was hard to imagine this tranquil town as the scene of such events. Some local specialties include Oaxaca cheese, chocolate and tequila, which we were happy to sample mass amounts of as we perused the market. The rest of Team England joined us and thanks to the addition of Danish friends Rasmus and Joel, we now became known as Team Europe. We celebrated Aly´s birthday in style and he was especially delighted when we presented him with his very own wrestling mask. That evening we discovered that juvenile behaviour such as spraying each other with shaving foam and bouncing on beds is still as enjoyable as ever. Following this fun was a Sol-fuelled night which inevitably lead to yet more attempts at salsa dancing and tom foolery on the dance floor, much to the local´s bemusement.

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on February 14, 2007 from Mexico, Mexico
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

From Oaxaca we took a detour from the tourist trail and stopped 3000m above sea level in the mountain village of San Jose Del Pacifico. Here Team Europe found themselves inhabiting a cosy witch's attic. The witch was an old lady with flowing grey braids and a weathered face who enjoyed conversing with her garden. Luckily for us she was a white witch who kept her powers only for special occasions such as fixing our broken toilet. Her house was something special to behold, filled with voodoo dolls hanging from the ceilings, the walls covered from top to bottom with psychadelic art work, and the piece-de-resistance, her very own black cat. It was a very chilled out place with incredible scenery. The house was set in the hills above the clouds and from our attic window, one minute mountains were visible as far as the eye could see, and the next we were completely enshrouded in mist. We spent a couple of days relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere whilst having some very unique conversations (mostly started by Aly), involving cheese and the social strata of English dialogue. Having had enough of the cold, we headed down the mountains to the beach.

The minibus taking us to the coast grew increasingly sweaty as we approached Puerto Angel. Peeling off our dampened clothes we ran straight to the sea to cool off. Not much happened on our one night in Puerto Angel, although we did have an amazing fish dinner prepared single-handedly by a small Mexican lady in a tiny kitchen, (the meal was so good we ignored the presence of a rogue skunk loitering near the kitchen.)

Our quiet bedtime reading was livened up by the loud intrusion of Rasmus and Joel, two very drunk Danish boys. They had managed to get completely legless in the quietest spot on the coast and provided some priceless bedtime entertainment before the English boys came to the rescue and sent them home. We hopped a few hours up the coast to Puerto Escondido, a slightly more lively beachside town. It was here that we saw our first evidence of the corrupt Mexican police in action. Whilst walking down the street with an Israeli guy we had just that night befriended, a police van pulled up and demanded he get in as he was drinking a bottle of Corona. There was little we could do as he was whisked away but bumping into him a few hours later, we learnt that he had paid them off with 400 pesos (about 20 quid). Murph and Colly had got away scott-free despite the fact that they themselves were clutching tequila sunrises at the time! The boys went on a fishing excursion whilst we enjoyed some beach time. They returned home triumphantly bearing their catches of barracuda and tuna which they then proceeded to disembowel all over the communal kitchen, much to some guests' disgust. Tasted damn good though! Our last night in Puerto Escondido marked an emotional farewell for Team Europe. It had been a whirlwind romance, but all good things must come to an end so we wiped away those tears as we boarded the overnight bus to San Cristobal.

San Cristobal was to be our final stop in western Mexico and proved to be a charming little town in the hills of the Chiapas District. We spent a day visiting some of the many pretty churches and exploring the quaint cobbled streets. We visited San Juan Chamula, a traditional Mayan settlement. Our visit coincided with a religious festival and so we witnessed fireworks and a procession in the square. Their church is extremely unique, pine needles and candles covering the floor provide the heat necessary for worship and bottles of coca-cola are consumed for their energy. Their religion is based on Catholicism introduced by the Spanish but also includes elements of their traditional shamanist-animist practices. The second part of the tour took us to the house of a family where we watched an old lady prepare us fresh tortillas with goats cheese and squash powder. Tay had a wonderful suprise when Murph got down on one knee and proposed to her whilst sporting traditional Mayan wedding costume. They are planning a June wedding. Love was in the air as we celebrated Valentine's Day with a candlelit dinner for four, where Erin proved to be an old romantic as she presented the rest of the girls with wonderful heart-shaped lollies. Aah!

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on February 22, 2007 from Puerto Escondido, Mexico
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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Nerd Alert In Guatemala!

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

After an incredibly easy border crossing, our first experience of Guatemala was a terror inducing bus ride in which our gun-ho bus driver had a penchant for attempted overtakes on hairpin bends despite almost zero visibility. Whilst fearing for our lives Colly decided to enlighten us with some interesting facts about Guatemala from the Lonely Planet. Here are some of our favourites.
1. 'Guns, drugs and lives are cheap in Guatemala, an unfriendly combination.'
2. 'Due to people being unhappy with the judicial system, lynchings are an almost daily occurence.'
3. 'In 2002 there were 3606 violent deaths.'
4. 'Rapes, murders and muggings have been common occurences at many tourist destinations.'

After a change of pants we were in Panajachel by the shores of Lake Atitlan which fills a collapsed volcano. After an evening there we boarded a boat across the lake to San Pedro, a chilled out backpacker town. Coffee is one of the biggest industries in Guatemala so we felt it necessary to do a coffee tour to learn more about it. Expecting a chauffeur driven tour culminating with a nice cup of coffee, we were somewhat taken aback when we began scaling a mountain on foot. While we were busy whining and panting our way up, we were put to shame by the children, adults and OAPs carrying 47kg sacks of coffee beans down the mountain. Out of San Pedro´s population of 12,000, 10.000 work in the coffee plantations. The coffee beans are red and sweet so taste a million miles form the roasted coffee beans you get in your average Starbucks.

One Sunday we headed to Chichicastenango, where they hold the biggest market in Latin America. Some beautiful jewellery was purchased on all behalfs and we were very upset that we couldn´t take home one of the adorable chicks, kittens and puppies on sale.

Next stop Antigua, which was a lovely town with cobbled streets, old monastries and overwhelming views of surrounding volcanoes. An unmissable experience in Guatemala is to climb an active volcano. We opted for the sunset tour of Volcano Pacaya and embarked on a rather exciting and unique adventure. Although we knew we would be seeing lava, nothing could prepare us for being just metres from the flow and the falling red hot rocks. To add to the atmosphere, we could smell the rubber on our shoes burning and feel the heat emanating from the rocks. In fact the rocks were so jagged that one false move could have resulted in a broken limb or an extremity submerged in boiling molten lava. Despite the action clearly going on inside the volcano, as we stood and surveyed the scene from the crater, we were left breathless by the tranquility of the view, the peaks of surrounding volcanoes emerging from the pink blanket of clouds set against the dusky sky. It was so beautiful we sat down and composed some poetry whilst wiping away tears of raw emotion. Our return journey was perilous in the pitch black, illuminated only by weak flashlights, the occasional shooting star and the glow from our hearts. An amazing and exhilarating experience, definately one of the best things we´ve done all trip.

Apparently all bus rides in Guatemala were going to be hellish. Trying to save a bit of cash, we opted for a third class bus with cries of 'we got buses across the whole of South East Asia without air con or toilets, it'll be a god damn breeze'. Very soon into the journey we began to regret our decision as the bus driver stopped every ten minutes to see to his errands, drop off packages and enjoy personal cigarette breaks. We gained another insight into police corruption in Central America as the police pulled the bus over and forced all immigrants from neighbouring countries off the bus. Although legally allowed to be in Guatemala and having correct paper work, the workers were charged 40 quetzales each and informed us afterwards that it was already the fourth time it had happened on their journey. After a seven hour journey becoming fourteen, we arrived at Flores delirious from hunger, dehydration and flat-bottom syndrome.

Flores is an unremarkable town used simply as a gateway for the Mayan ruins at Tikal. Arising at 2.45am, we took a bus to the site. Arriving at 3.45 moley eyed, we set off through the pitch black jungle, alert to every sound. Particularly disturbing was the frightening and bizarre noise of the howler monkeys coming from high above us in the tree tops. We climbed to the top of one of the pyramids to watch the sunrise over the ancient city. However as it got lighter, the view was obscured by thick clouds, not quite the magical sunrise we were expecting but a truly mystical experience nonetheless. As we climbed down the pyramid, a family of spider monkeys swung past us going about their daily business with babies of back. The rest of the tour was a nature trail and history lesson as we learnt more about the jungle and Mayan civilisation. Next it was on to Belize and the Caribbean sea.

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on March 3, 2007 from Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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Smack Down!

Belize City, Belize

As we approached the Belizean border we breathed a sigh of relief as we saw that all signs were in English. Our days of frantically pointing at the phrasebook were over. Belize has a very different feeling from Guatemala and Mexico, both the Caribbean and British influences are very clear from the abundance of friendly rastas and the fact that many people are tri-lingual, speaking English, Spanish and Creole.
We stayed in the border town of San Ignacio from where we took a day trip to Mountain Pine Ridge National Park. After employing a local taxi driver for the day, we stopped off at some huge caves which had armed guards outside to stop Guatemalans robbing the tourists. We spent a leisurely few hours basking by the crystal clear rock-pools. Erin however, cockily thought she could tackle the rapids and was almost swept downstream whilst the others watched and looked on in amusement.

Plans to stop in Belize City were quickly discarded after getting in a taxi and heading towards a hostel when half way there unsatisfied by the surroundings, we redirected our driver to the ferryport. This turned out to be a good decision as on arriving on the island of Caye Caulker, we headed to the first guesthouse and heard a cry of "Helen!" from above. Who on earth did we know in Caye Caulker?! As we spun round and our eyes adjusted to the light, we saw a silhouette of Aly K, rock God extraordinaire and co-founding member of Team Europe, hollering our names.
Delighted to find that Rasmus and Joel were also there, the Team was partially reunited, unlucky Nick and Sebastian. Following a day bobbing in the sea by the Split, our team went global as we recruited Americans Evan, Chad and Zach plus Irish boy Keith. This proved to be a perfect blend of people as we embarked upon a 4 day drinking frenzy of which we will save you the gory details and just enlighten you with some of our best bits.........

1) Day time activities included riding around on golf carts (the only mode of transport on the island) frolicking in the sea and consuming large quantities of freshly baked banana bread.

2) Accumulating foot injuries was another popular activity and there were threats of gangrene aplenty.

3) Each night involved single sex wrestling matches, in which the girls thought they had held their own but the video footage reveals otherwise. This was made less embarrassing as the European boys were equally crap, Chad single handedly wrapped Aly and Rasmus in their bed sheet, "like a burrito." (Rasmus 02/07)

4) Accessories for evenings out included a wooden beaded curtain as worn by Aly and multiple pieces of sand-castle-making-equipment.

5) We invented the best drinking game in the world ever, ingeniously entitled "awight geez". Await with baited breath for its arrival in Great Britain on 1500 hours, March 20th 2007.

Overall we rate Belize 11 out of 10 and give it one big smug adventurers thumbs up!

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on March 8, 2007 from Belize City, Belize
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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Woo hoo, Spring Break! Who wants a body shot?!

Cancun, Mexico

From Belize we headed to the beautiful white sandy beaches and aquamarine waters of Tulum. Here we had a few days R & R to recover from the excesses of Caye Caulker before hopping on a bus up the coast to Playa del Carmen, where it was clear that Mexico's east coast was not actually Mexico at all, but more like America. The beautiful rooftop view from our hostel was a majestic vision of supermarket wonderment, in the towering form of a giant Walmart. As the weather was disappointing, the bakery section became our haven where we abused the free taster system and sampled delights such as pineapple upside-down cake, ham and cheese roll and banana slice. We were so dedicated to the cause that we partook in thrice daily visits and employed strategic costume changes to avoid being recognised. Despite the Americana feel to Playa del Carmen, we managed to experience a taste of Mexican culture when Chris from our hostel introduced a game of pinata for his birthday celebrations. Its amazing how fun being blindfolded, spun around and ridiculed by onlookers can be when you're brandishing a large stick and sweeties are the prize.

We were dreading the prospect of spring break in Cancun due to lack of money, no drinking mojo and excesses of over enthusiatic American college kids. Arriving at our hostel didn't provide any comfort when it appeared to be in the middle of a golf course, had no doors or curtains on the showers or toilets, had strange padded rooms full of old sofas and our room was not unlike a boarding school dormitory from the 16th century. However our plans to leave the next morning were shamelessly abandoned upon the arrival of seven ridiculously hot Australian boys who weren't shy about walking around semi-clad. This is where our spring break really began and the planned two days quickly escalated into a week of carnage. Our main pleasure derived form shouting cheesy Americanisms such as:

"Woo hoo spring break!!"
"Let's get some shooters!"
"Who wants a body shot?!"
"Hey dude how much d'you bench? Oh I max out about 130, but it pays the bills."
"Let's go chug a beer!"

The major drama of the week came on the last night when Petey, Lee and Ryan were a little worse for wear in our favourite club Daddy-O's and were consequently asked to leave. Somehow the situation spiralled out of control and they were soon encircled by policeman, handcuffed and being beaten with batons. They were bundled into the policevan and taken to the station. Having witnessed this shocking police brutality, it was Erin and Murph to the rescue as they began an elaborate adventure across Cancun brandishing their credit cards shouting about how they were going to "bail their boyfriends out of prison!" from the back of a golf cart.

The next day was extremely sombre however, as it transpired that each of the fugitives would have to pay $1000 US bail to avoid being moved to the main prison in town. Sixteen long hours later the jail birds returned, their wallets considerably lighter and their bodies black and blue, but extremely glad to be free. The moral of the story is anyone visiting Central America should try and stay on the right side of the law.

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on March 27, 2007 from Cancun, Mexico
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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Last stop this town

Los Angeles, United States

We came to LA for one reason and one reason only- to shop. Having ditched pretty much every garment we owned in Cancun we were excited about the prospect of wearing clothes which did not have comedy value written all over them. With the help of our long abused credit cards we explored the Beverley Centre and 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica to our heart's content. On our first night we attended the house-warming of Evan Asano, of Belizean fame who had recently moved down the coast from San Fransico. We reminisced about Caribbean nights over steak and vodka, but illness lingering from our time spent in Cancun made us very unhardcore and we all went to bed early doors. One thing we cannot fail to mention about Los Angeles is the appalling public transport system. Not only does the metro not cover about 95% of the city, the trains are so infrequent you could have run a marathon in the time it takes for one to arrive. Not only that but the entire city is so sprawled that visiting anywhere or anything becomes an expedition of gargantuan proportions. So it was a real treat when Evan became our personal chauffeur and took us on a sightseeing trip to the circus that is Venice Beach. We were disappointed to find Muscle Beach empty most likely due to the cold weather, but it was crawling with weirdos and crazys nonetheless. One place we really enjoyed in LA, however, was The Grove, where Mona Atzinger- Colly's sister's mother-in-law- took us for a scrumptious lunch, where we drank rather a lot of wine and had a thoroughly lovely time- thanks Mona! To add to the day's excitement Tay and Murph were lucky enough to bump into world famous 'Dancing with the stars' presenter Cat Deeley in the ladies' loo of a fancy department store- soooooo LA. The smugs became the stinkys as we finally, after 11 months and 29 of days of talking about it, went for a meal in the famous garlic restaurant- The Stinking Rose. We devoured on average around four or five or possibly even six bulbs of garlic each as we chowed down on the delighful garlic infused cuisine. The next morning we paid for our sins however when we awoke with seriously painful acid reflux and a very smelly room. Other than that we strolled along Hollywood Boulevard, saw the Chinese Theatre where the Oscars are held and perused the Walk of Fame to see the stars.

So on the evening of March 19th 2007 we arrived in LAX to board the flight to our final destination- London Heathrow. We had seriously mixed emotions- excitement about seeing our parents and families, devastation at knowing our year was over and overwhelming satisfaction that we could not have possibly had a better time.

After ten hours of anticipation we decided to make our parents wait a little bit longer while we applied makeup in the toilets and all joined hands in baggage reclaim for a final teamtalk. After 365 days spent in each others company we could hardly bare the prospect of even a day spent apart, amidst promises of daily text updates for everything spanning dinner plans and unusual bowel movements, we braced ourselves, burst through the doors, and ran to greet our lovely, smiling parents. Top points for John Taylor (Father O'Doode/Mandy Marmite- Mother of nine), recently retired, he had managed to find time to construct a huge banner to welcome us home.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has read our blog and followed our journey. To all the very special people we've met along the way who helped to make our trip what it was, and last but not least, to our parents for putting up with a year of worry and always being there to support us.

We have had the year of our lives and can confirm that the Smug Adventures were truly very smug indeed.

Until next time, Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin x x x x

permalink written by  Murph, Tay, Colly and Erin on April 24, 2007 from Los Angeles, United States
from the travel blog: The Smug Amigos Do Central America
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