It’s been a bit like a dream that over the last few years I have been steadily been selling limited edition art prints of my favourite photographs from my travels around the world – mostly through Artfinder, but also some direct sales. Many of the images you might recognise as they would have been posted here on my travel blog (thptravels) before.

It’s a very rewarding feeling when a new order comes through and I really enjoy the process of getting the prints packed and shipped to my customers, wherever in the world they may be based – and that is the beautiful thing about selling on online platforms, i feel privileged to be able to say my artworks are hanging as wall art in people’s living rooms and offices around the world.

Just the other week I started building up and testing a new marketplace on the Shopify site – as a new platform I’m very excited to try it out, and am looking forward to reaching a larger audience. It’s another chance for more people to take part in my travel experiences through my photography.

So please feel free to have a look at my new site by clicking on the link: https://toms-travel-photography.myshopify.com

Death Valley Drive-By. Limited edition travel photography.

Homepage – tom’s limited edition travel photography slide

Boat No. 8 - Limited edition travel photography slide

Homepage – tom’s limited edition travel photography slide

Homepage thumbnails. Limited edition travel photography.

Homepage – tom’s limited edition travel photography thumbnails

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My new photography website has finally been launched.

Hi All, This is not strictly a travel update but I have just launched a new updated version of my website www.tomhphoto.co.uk with updated images - many updates to the travel section of course - and now mobile friendly. It would be great to get feedback, so feel free to leave a comment. [caption id="attachment_3176" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_04 The Saxon village of Viscri in Transylvania, Romania.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3178" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_06 The Red Fort in New Delhi, India.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3175" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_03 Marrakesh, Morocco.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3174" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_02 Greatstone Beach, New Romney.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3173" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_01 Byron Bay, Australia.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3184" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_12 O.Z.O.R.A. festival in Hungary.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3177" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_05 Masquerader in the Port of Spain Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3180" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_08 The Birmingham Bullring.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3181" align="alignnone" width="1024"]tom_hanslien_photography_homepage_09 The iconic Sydney Opera House, Australia.[/caption]

A Transylvanian Cycling Adventure.

Sometimes time really flies and escapes. This post is over a year delayed, so will have to make it a bit short and sweet.

Last June I had the opportunity to join in on a cycle trip through the beautiful landscapes of Transylvania, surrounded the Carpathian Mountains, visiting old Saxon villages where the traditional way of life still largely prevails.

The trip was arranged by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) and organised by The Slow Cyclist. The GHF is committed to aid in the restoration of the vernacular architecture of the Saxon Villages using the traditional techniques and materials, so the focus of our trip was to visit some of the villages and sites to see the result of the work that has been done, and also see the progress of some of the current restorations.

The Slow Cyclist did an absolute fantastic job with the arranging of all the accommodation, food, entertainment, transport and mountain bikes. We were treated with the most gorgeous home-cooked food, and despite all the exercise from cycling I gained a fair few pounds from overindulging.

An unexpected little bonus on our last day before flying back home to the UK was to meet The Prince of Wales at an opening of a traditional kiln for making roof-tiles and building bricks. It was also fun to be able to try making a tile myself – somewhere in Transylvania there is a roof with a single tile inscribed with my name, if it survived the burning process that is.

As the title suggests this is our last destination before we head back to London and real life, so this will be the last post for a while – until we find we need another adventure of course.

After a few fantastically relaxing days in San Marcos la Laguna it was time to head to Mexico City for our return flight to good old London. We've pre-booked a room at Hostal Dos Fridas y Diego, so from the airport we take a taxi straight there. Our Formula 1 driver of our taxi gets us to our destination in next to no time. We again notice wherever we look there is Police absolutely everywhere, and especially as we approach our hostel – we later learn that we’re slap in the middle of the district where most of the embassies are based, so that could explain the extra heavy police presence in our area.

The lady that welcomes us upon our arrival is very friendly and helpful and after a bit of problems with opening the lock to the room we’d booked we get relocated to a massive spacious room with two double and one single bed. The hostel is really colourfully decorated with the running theme of Frida Kahlo in mind of course – there are pictures of and by her everywhere.

[caption id="attachment_2870" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hostal Dos Fridas y Diego, Mexico City. Hostal Dos Fridas y Diego, Mexico City.[/caption]

To try to make the most out of our short stay here in Mexico City we have a browse through the various flyers in the reception and decide on booking up a full day excursion to the Teotihuacan Pyramids for the next day and a half day tour of the markets in the morning of the following morning before our flight back home.

On the morning of our excursion to the Teotihuacan Pyramids Hannah is unfortunately not feeling very well - it’s another bout with stomach upsets, so I have to set off on my own. As the pickup is before the start of breakfast service at our hostel they let me have free range of the kitchen and after a couple of fried eggs some fruit and coffee I'm ready to go. Luckily the tour company doesn't charge for Hannah despite the last minute cancellation.

The group of our tour is quite small – it’s only six of us altogether. It’s a mix of French, Portuguese, German and English which gives our guide the opportunity to show off his language skills. Quite impressively he seems to manage all these languages very well, but he doesn't attempt to talk to me in Norwegian... I can’t say I blame him for that though – not exactly a world language.

The tour starts with introductions and a little history lesson about the history of the Teotihuacan Pyramids, the ancient civilisation that built them, and about the discovery and excavation of the site. The journey down to the pyramids takes roughly an hour and after the guide finish our history-lesson we’re left to either have a bit of a rest, or like me just admiring the never ending urban landscape of this enormous city.

Before entering the site we have a mandatory stopover at an arts and craft market where we get a little demonstration of the traditions of hand crafts using a local cactus species and also the obsidian rock. By now I'm so used to these mandatory visits to crafts markets on every tour we've done that I would find it odd and unsettling if we didn't stop at one. I'm actually very happy to visit this one as for once I can actually do a little bit of shopping – it’s the end of our travels so I don’t have worry about not having space in the backpack and the prospect of carrying around extra weight for weeks, or even months, as have been the reason for not going crazy shopping for all the lovely stuff we've encountered along our trip. Also, as Hannah might need a bit of cheering up after being stuck indoors in bed all day a couple of souvenirs might help her a bit.

[caption id="attachment_2835" align="aligncenter" width="545"]An Obsidian rock workshop by the Teotihuacan Pyramids, Mexico City. An Obsidian rock workshop by the Teotihuacan Pyramids, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2836" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mexico City. Mexico City.[/caption]

After the shopping-stop it’s time for the main attraction of our tour the Teotihuacan Pyramids where we get about three hours to roam around after a short guided tour of The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl. Three hours sounds like an adequate amount of time to explore the site but I soon discover otherwise. The site is absolutely enormous but that is not the main problem – because it’s Easter Sunday the site is absolutely ram-packed with people, making it slightly challenging to climb the pyramids – there are queues everywhere and to get to the top of the main monument, the Pyramid of the Sun takes me about one and a half hour due to the unbelievable queue. I practically have to run back down to make it in time for the bus. I'm glad I started with the Pyramid of the Moon where there were less queuing or I might have only been able to see the one pyramid. The views from the top of the pyramids are amazing so it’s definitely worth the wait and the standing around in the sweltering heat under a relentlessly scorching sun – very fitting circumstances when climbing the Pyramid of the Sun of course.

[caption id="attachment_2837" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2838" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2839" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2840" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2841" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2842" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2843" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2844" align="aligncenter" width="533"]View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2845" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2846" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2847" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2848" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2849" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2850" align="aligncenter" width="533"]One of many souvenir vendors in front of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. One of many souvenir vendors in front of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2851" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The start of the queue for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. The start of the queue for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2852" align="aligncenter" width="533"]More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2853" align="aligncenter" width="533"]More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2854" align="aligncenter" width="545"]More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2855" align="aligncenter" width="533"]I drifted lonely as a cloud... while queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. I drifted lonely as a cloud... while queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2856" align="aligncenter" width="545"]More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. More queuing for the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2857" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2858" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City. View from the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico City.[/caption]

After being close to having a sun-stroke we return to the artisan market we visited earlier for some lunch in their restaurant. It’s a buffet of locally traditional food, and it’s quite a spread they’ve laid out for us – my favourites are the cactus stew-like dish and some blackened chicken, all washed down by some nice Mexican beer of course.

After a lovely lunch it’s back to central Mexico City and a visit to The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where the infamous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs. None of us are particularly interested in this part of the tour – not even the guide... when one of our party asks whether he’s sad to be away from his family on this Easter Sunday he is quick to respond saying he’s not a Catholic and would otherwise spend the day in the sofa with DVDs and junk food. When he tells the story of the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe his disbelief in the story shines through – I find that very amusing.

[caption id="attachment_2859" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. The old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2860" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. The old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2861" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. The modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2862" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mass blessings outside of the modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. Mass blessings outside of the modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2863" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. The modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2864" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside the modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside the modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.[/caption]

Our last stop is the Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, the Colonial Church of Santiago, and Plaza de las Tres Culturas (square of three cultures). Tlatelolco was apparently where the last stand of the Aztec against the Spaniards took place. The square next to the archaeological site is called the square of three cultures because of the surrounding pre-Hispanic ruins, the Colonial Church of Santiago, and the modern urban landscape of Mexico City meets here.

[caption id="attachment_2865" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City. The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2866" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City. The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2867" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City. The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2868" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City. The Archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2869" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Colonial Church of Santiago by the  archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Colonial Church of Santiago by the archaeological site of Tlatelolco, Mexico City.[/caption]

Returning to the hostel I learn that poor Hannah have been cooped up inside all day, which doesn't sound very exciting. The only good thing about that is she’s been able to concentrate on her blogging all day and got a lot of typing done.

The next day, and it’s our last day of our five months adventure. We’d booked up a market tour and again have to leave the hostel before breakfast service. We take charge of the kitchen and cook our breakfast before checking out and arranging the storage of our backpacks with the lady in reception. All sorted we head over to the start-point of our tour in Hostel Amigo where the travel company is based. It’s not very far away and with the help of the metro we’re there in no time – but only to learn that the tour is unlikely to go ahead as there is only us two interested to do it today. We were under the illusion that when you book a tour and it’s confirmed it wouldn't matter how many else were interested – the main clue being in the word confirmed... They still decide the tour is off, so we (slightly pissed off) decide to do our own tour of the markets, as they’re all within walking-distance. We first get a bit side-tracked as I wouldn't mind having a look at Plaza de la Constitucion and a quick nose at the Cathedral – we’d passed it in the car the day before on our way to the Teotihuacan Pyramids (apparently it doesn't really have a name, but it’s referred to either “The Cathedral” or the “Metropolitan Cathedral”). After this we head down to the Markets for our self-guided tour.

[caption id="attachment_2871" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Plaza de la Constitucion, Mexico City. Plaza de la Constitucion, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2872" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2873" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2874" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2875" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2876" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.[/caption]

The first market is called Mercado de la Merced and is a very lively and colourful food market. The second one is called Mercado de Sonora, where you can find all sorts of pets, and some livestock as well, and it also has a section for all kinds of herbs and spices and all you need for practising voodoo.  We had planned to go to a third market as well, the Mercado Flores Roman, but after the two previous ones we’re all marketed-out and decide to head for a restaurant for lunch.

[caption id="attachment_2877" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2878" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2887" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2879" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2880" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2881" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2882" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2883" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City. Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2884" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Mexico City. Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2885" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Mercado de Sonora, Mexico City. Mercado de Sonora, Mexico City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2886" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Outside Mercado de Sonora, Mexico City. Outside Mercado de Sonora, Mexico City.[/caption]

After filling our bellies up with a lovely lunch we head back to our hostel to get ready for our flight back to London. We have ample time, enough to get changed and freshen up before our taxi comes to pick us up. Hannah have arranged with her brother to come and pick us up on arrival in London, so we head to the airport with the peace of mind that we’ll not have to fight our way through the busy tube with our enormous backpacks. Our flight is a fairly comfortable 11 hour flight and as we come out into the terminal building after picking up our bags Hannah’s brother and sister-in-law welcomes us with flowers, champagne, Christmas pudding and Easter eggs. It’s nice to be back after all this time and with such a welcome we feel very spoiled. We get into the car and start the drive through London to get home – it’s a really lovely sunny day and everything looks so beautiful in the sunlight as we glide through town. It’s such a nice feeling to recognise the surroundings for once and not having to keep a track of where we are and where we’re heading with the GPS on Google Maps in case we have a dodgy taxi driver that wants to rip us off by taking the long way around or to the wrong location and an expensive hotel where he’ll get commission. We know where we’re going this time, and we know we don’t have a dodgy driver – it’s a very comforting feeling.

After five months away it’s also going to be good to get back into working again - although I have of course been working with my photography all along my travels it’s going to be good to get back to commissioned work, and get some structure back into life. I wonder how long I will last before I have to go away for a holiday again though.

Started a bit later than planned from our lovely hostel in Guatemala City and got a taxi to the bus station. At first we were a bit sceptic about taking the 2nd class bus (chicken bus) but this turned out to be quite a fun little adventure. They really cram the bus full so we got squashed to within an inch of our lives, but it was a nice atmosphere in the bus and everybody has a big smile on their faces. Every now and then the bus picks up vendors who pass through the bus selling their goods before being dropped off further along the route.

When we arrive in San Marcos la Laguna it’s around eight in the evening and as we don’t have a map of the place we have no idea where the guest houses we’d looked at are situated - and there is no roads here, only a network of small paths so the guest houses’ addresses are just San Marcos la Laguna and no street-names. Along the paths there is no lighting which doesn't help us in our navigation. After walking up and down the main path and then up and down countless of more times we finally find a place to stay for the night. It’s not the nicest place – it’s a very basic room, which isn't anything unusual or bad in itself, but the shared facilities are downright very grubby. It serves us for the one night though as we find it near impossible to find any open guest houses. Next day we learn most guest houses close their receptions around six in the evening (apparently for security reasons) although San Marcos seems completely safe to us.

[caption id="attachment_2797" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Having a gorgeous curry at Restaurant Fe, San Marcos la Laguna. Having a gorgeous curry at Restaurant Fe, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2798" align="aligncenter" width="426"]Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2799" align="aligncenter" width="545"]A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna. A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2800" align="aligncenter" width="545"]A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna. A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

First thing in the morning we head over to Hotel Aaculaax to see if they have any available rooms. We’re in luck and get an amazing room – really spacious and with a nice view of the garden. We could also have opted for one of their self-contained flats up in the hill above the hotel with what must be an amazing view, but at 800 Quetzales (US$ 100) per night it is a bit above our budget. Our room is unfortunately not available for our whole stay here so for the last two days we go for a smaller room (the good thing is that it’s cheaper of course). We love the décor in this hotel – everything is built by volunteers and out of recycled materials. It’s got heaps of character and the staff and owners are really friendly and helpful. The breakfast is also absolutely amazing with lots of fruit, home-made jam and fresh locally grown coffee. No wonder this place holds the top spot on TripAdvisor.

[caption id="attachment_2801" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The path up to Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. The path up to Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2802" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2803" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The view of the garen from our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. The view of the garen from our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2804" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2805" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our bathroom at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our bathroom at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2816" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2817" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2821" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2822" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

The atmosphere here in San Marcos is dangerously relaxing – almost hypnotic - and we find time just flies by while we get a well deserved rest and recharge at the end of our trip. People here are also really friendly and as we walk around exploring the place virtually everyone you encounter says hello with a smile – it’s infectious and really makes it a pleasurable place.

[caption id="attachment_2825" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of Lake Atitlán from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. View of Lake Atitlán from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.[/caption]

The most important highlight of my travels was played out here in San Marcos la Laguna. It all happened when we went to jump into the Lake Atitlán from the rocks. It’s a really popular thing to do here in San Marcos and there is even a seven meter high platform where you can jump off of. The water has a really nice temperature and it’s really deep so it’s very safe to jump in even from very high up. I decide to try to dive from the platform and have Hannah take a photo of me in the dive. Little does she know of the upcoming surprise. I dive in and when I surface and swim into land I call to Hannah saying I found something on the bottom of the lake. She’s very curious about what this can be and as I hand it over to her it becomes clear it’s a small ring and as she receive it I ask for her hand in marriage. To my relief there is no sign of hesitation and I get an instant YES. It made me feel like the luckiest man alive.

[caption id="attachment_2808" align="aligncenter" width="545"]This is me taking the plunge :-) When I surfaced again I claimed to have found something on the bottom of the lake. It was a ring, and when I handed it over to Hannah I asked for her hand in marriage... She said YES!!! :-) This is me taking the plunge :-) When I surfaced again I claimed to have found something on the bottom of the lake. It was a ring, and when I handed it over to Hannah I asked for her hand in marriage... She said YES!!! :-)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2818" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The little ring that signifies so much - even if it's a temporary stand-in :-) The little ring that signifies so much - even if it's a temporary stand-in :-)[/caption]

We spend the rest of our stay just lounging around in town eating gorgeous food – all locally sourced and organic of course – and find it really hilarious with all the hippies we encounter – some are really, really “far out” and like a throwback from the sixties. Here you can actually find true hippies - something we’d hoped to see more of previously in our adventure, but unfortunately not had much luck with. It’s also really fun when there is live music in the restaurants and as they pass by they dance in the style of seaweed on the bottom of the ocean, swaying around with their hands high in the air as if in slow motion.

[caption id="attachment_2806" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Lake Atitlán seen from the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2807" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hanna at the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna. Hanna at the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2810" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2811" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chicken-busses in San Pedro La Laguna. Chicken-busses in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2812" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2813" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2814" align="aligncenter" width="545"]San Pedro La Laguna. San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2815" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2819" align="aligncenter" width="465"]Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2820" align="aligncenter" width="545"]"Canadian Bacon" performing at The Mojito House, San Marcos la Laguna. "Canadian Bacon" performing at The Mojito House, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

We decide to splash out a bit as we’re close to the end of our trip and hire a private taxi from the hotel to Guatemala City Airport for our flight to the last destination Mexico City. We get picked up just after eight in the morning so there is no time for breakfast. Our driver stops at a petrol station which has a little restaurant attached though and we have a fantastic traditional breakfast there – really unexpected how good this meal in a petrol station is – a very pleasant surprise. After this it’s direct drive to the airport and we arrive nicely in good time for our flight.

[caption id="attachment_2823" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport. Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2824" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport. Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport.[/caption]

We arrive in Guatemala City in the early evening by air, it’s a bit extravagant of us to fly – we were planning to take a bus but were less than enthusiastic to spend a whooping 60 hours on a journey by bus - our time is precious and we much prefer spending it relaxing rather than cooped up in a bus now that we’re seriously starting to feel the fatigue after countless long journeys, always on the move from place to place. We managed to book a room at Hostal La Coperacha and an airport pickup while waiting for our flight in San Jose – we had a few hours to kill as our VIP taxi-van arrived early from Montezuma. It feels very luxurious to have everything booked up and arranged for us for once – no stress is a very pleasant feeling. Our taxi driver is waiting for us as we come out but he need to go and pick his car up from the car park so we have to wait outside where we have some crazy woman (probably on crack and various other substances) shouting abuse at the world and some gibberish about government satellites and aliens. We try to just ignore her as she comes up to us but this just make her more determined to shout louder and even more abusing than before. We’re just hoping she won’t attack us with her used needles and probably deadly diseases. Our taxi driver arrives in the nick of time to rescue us from an attack by this crazed babbling woman – we’re out of here. As we get closer to the centre of town we hit crazy traffic – it’s all stand-still as many roads are closed off for the Easter holy week parades. Due to this chaos the journey that is supposed to take 10-15 minutes takes over an hour. It’s quite nice to watch the bustle of the people dressed in their funny purple church outfits as we slowly move through the traffic stand-still in our taxi. When we finally get to the hotel we get a very nice surprise - the room is huge and really nicely decorated and the hostel is in a really nice old building on a quiet road.

[caption id="attachment_2782" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City. Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2783" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City. Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City.[/caption]

Upon arrival we’re absolutely starving and quickly pop out to get something to eat. Because it’s the start of holy week and Sunday not many restaurants will be open, but we head out in good hopes. We don’t get far down the road before we can’t get any further because of the crowd of people still hanging about in the streets after the parade we saw some of from the taxi earlier. The good thing with it still being very busy is that there are many food-stalls around, so our worries about not being able to get food are unfounded. We really like the look of a stall that makes some gorgeous smelling chorizo sandwiches. With my broken Spanish I manage to order one for me without the mayo sauce and one for Hannah with all the trimmings. I’m astonished I manage to do the order without stuttering and even more surprised that the stall-holder understands me on the first try, so I don’t need to repeat myself – I’m getting better at this, whohooo. I even get a compliment on my Spanish from a bystander after he learns I’m Norwegian. Happily fed we walk back towards our hostel (or more correctly – we’re happily stuffing our faces while walking back to the hostel). It’s quite late by now and we’re looking forward to relaxing in our plush room. Our hostel has a really tranquil setting with lots of plants dotted around the place. The manager Lucien, an ex-pat Frenchman, is really nice, and in the morning cooks up a very nice traditional Guatemalan breakfast for us. He also arranges for us the transport to the bus station for our bus to Panajachel on Lake Atilan where we can catch the boat to San Marcos La Laguna.

Before we get our taxi to the bus station we need to get some cash out and head in towards the main square to find an ATM. We’re quite surprised to find there are armed guards everywhere and for everything - how bad is the situation here when they need an armed guard for the truck delivering frozen chicken and the van delivering sausages to the various small shops. We’d seen armed guards by banks and ATMs in other countries but that is sort of expected – armed guards for some frozen chicken is a sign of desperate measures due to desperate people – how poor are people here to resort to robbing a chicken or sausage van?

It’s time for us to take the bus to Panajachel and the taxi takes us to the bus company. From the outside I would never have guessed the place was a bus-station – it’s an anonymous doorway and at first we’re unsure the taxi driver was properly briefed on where we were supposed to be dropped off. He keeps saying something about one o’clock and wait, and something more about a closed office. We get our backpacks out of the car and head into the anonymous doorway hoping this is actually where we’re supposed to be. When we get inside we can breathe a sigh of release as we can see our bus with a Panajachel sign getting a proper overhaul and a good wash. The old bus is positively gleaming as if it was brand new by the time it’s ready for boarding. It’s a so-called chicken bus and in the beginning we’re a bit worried it’s going to be a bit rough and ready. It quickly fills up and we’re happy to see the passengers are a mix of families and business people, and not the crooks our guide was warning us would frequent these busses – maybe we should show our Lonely Planet books the shredder... (under pressure they might start to improve themselves...). The journey is a really fun experience with vendors coming on during the trip selling chicken in tortillas and fruits – and a few things we couldn’t understand what it is of course. Everybody on the bus are wearing big smiles, even though it’s really crammed – we’re practically sitting on top of each other – and the atmosphere is really great.

[caption id="attachment_2788" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our chicken bus getting a good wash and overhaul before the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel. Our chicken bus getting a good wash and overhaul before the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2785" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The bus depot for the chicken bus to Panajachel in Guatemala city. The bus depot for the chicken bus to Panajachel in Guatemala city.[/caption]

We arrive in Panajachel around six and after a bit of walking about find the right pier for the boats towards San Marcos la Laguna. After about a 45 minutes wait for the boat to fill up we’re finally on our way across Lake Atilan.

[caption id="attachment_2787" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our view from the pier in Panajachel while waiting for our boat to fill up and cross Lake Atilan to reach San Marcos la Laguna. Our view from the pier in Panajachel while waiting for our boat to fill up and cross Lake Atilan to reach San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

We arrive in Montezuma around eight in the evening and the place looks really busy, but we soon get a feeling that the hippy village described in the guide is a bit misleading - the people we see in the restaurants and along the main road look mostly glammed up and not the environmentally conscious hemp-garb-dressed people we were expecting.

[caption id="attachment_2756" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the ferry crossing the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica. View from the ferry crossing the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2757" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View from the ferry crossing the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica. View from the ferry crossing the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica.[/caption]

Very soon we discover why there are hardly any hippies left here - they simply wouldn't be able to afford to stay here - you almost need a mortgage just to buy a bottle of water.

We find a place called Montezuma Pacifico Hotel after a few unsuccessful tries with some of the other places we’d researched in advance. We’d sent out numerous messages to hotels asking for availability before leaving San Jose for the bus, but surprise, surprise none had bothered to get back to us – do hotels not want guests? This has been happening a lot all along our travels. After settling in we’re starting to feel a bit peckish and decide to go out to get some food. We’re a bit puzzled when we get downstairs to the exit and find a chair blocking a closed door... we find this a bit weird but put the chair to the side and go out, careful to lock the door after us of course. To our surprise the centre of the town that was very lively only about an hour ago is now almost like a ghost town. All shops, restaurants and bars close before 22:00 – even the ATM is closed at this time. There are two exceptions to this which is one bar and it’s attached minimart. No surprise then that these two establishments are raking it in when people want to drink more, and they need their snacks afterwards. We were looking forward to a nice meal after spending most of the day on the bus and ferry but our plans got instantly squashed when no restaurants were open anymore – we have to settle for some snacks from the minimart – it’s not got much choice and I end up with very dry pretzels in substitute for dinner – not ideal, especially bearing in mind I had to fork out a few pounds just for a bag of snacks.

When we checked in at the Montezuma Pacifico Hotel the very friendly man was continuously talking about the air-con and the fact it was OK to leave it on when we go out of the room. We thought it a bit odd that he was so obsessed about it but the next day we really started to understand why he was going on about it so much – it’s so hot here in Montezuma and it’s made even more noticeable as it’s on the coast and quite humid. Our air-con is on full all day long and it can just about keep up and give us a liveable temperature – the electricity bill in this hotel must be astronomical.

We have a few small excursions walking about in the area around the town but don’t venture too far due to the intense humid heat. We wanted to do a little bit time on the beach but the beaches right by the town are not the best for lounging and swimming – they are very rocky and because the sea is so rough there are some seriously dangerous undercurrents let alone the danger of being smashed over a rock by the waves. We hear there are much nicer beaches further along the coastline but we’d need some sort of vehicle to get there.

[caption id="attachment_2759" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2760" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2761" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2762" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2763" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2764" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption]

What we also discover on our walking adventures is the way some of the locals live in shacks by the beach just a few hundred metres out from the edge of the resorts. These tarpaulin huts where the poor locals live is in stark contrast to the several hundred pound a night tourist-places that you can find around here - it would seem the huge mountains of money spent by tourists doesn’t much benefit the local community.

It’s quite funny what the people can get away with when tourists have more money than sense though – along the main road through Montezuma (there is only the one road really) there are a few “hippies” with stalls selling their handicrafts. It’s ridiculously expensive – is it made of solid gold? I hear you say... nope, just a piece of string and a tiny trinket for which they demand £25 and they have no interest in haggling... similar handicrafts in Southeast Asia would probably go for between £1 to £2 – no surprise then that we just laughed at the top of our lungs as we walked off and down the road.

We're considering hiring a quad-bike as it seems the preferred mode of transport among the tourists and locals alike and go to inquire about the prices. We almost fall off the chair we're not sitting on when they tell us it's a whopping 40 pounds for six hours... We're used to pay something like three to five pounds for 24 hours in Southeast Asia for a decent scooter/motorbike. We're curious about how much the price for quad-bike hire compares to the prices in Europe, so after a quick Google search we discover the rates here are up to twice as high for the six hours than for a 24 hour hire in touristic places like Ibiza/Spain, Greece, and Portugal – unbelievable.

Although it’s not the hippie paradise we were hoping –and expecting – to find, Montezuma is a very relaxing place. However it did stress us out a bit with how expensive everything is here. I believe if we had a large budget allocated and didn’t have to worry about the prices we would have been able to have a much nicer time here, and we would have been able to take part in all the various activities on offer. There were plenty of diving-courses and excursions, zip-lining, adventure treks and much more to be done if you were willing to part with your hard-earned cash.

[caption id="attachment_2758" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cake and coffee, Montezuma. Cake and coffee, Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2765" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art, Montezuma. Street art, Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2766" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma. Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2767" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art, Montezuma. Street art, Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2770" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Montezuma, Pura Vida. Montezuma, Pura Vida.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2768" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah at the absolutely marvellous Restaurant Kalibo in Montezuma. Hannah at the absolutely marvellous Restaurant Kalibo in Montezuma.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2769" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The absolutely marvellous Restaurant Kalibo in Montezuma. The absolutely marvellous Restaurant Kalibo in Montezuma.[/caption]

In the evening of our last day here we decide to take a walk down to find the nicer sandy beaches we’d heard about – it’s about a half an hour to walk to reach these. First we have to go via the hotel to pick up our swimming-gear and leave all our other stuff in the room – there are many stories of muggings along the beaches here so we want to be on the safe side and follow the advice of not taking along any valuables. This turns out to be a little bit of a mistake as Hannah feels too knocked out by the heat and doesn’t want to go out again after feeling the lovely cooling effect of our hard-working air-con. It ends up with only me going for a little trek down to the very lovely sandy beach further up the coast. It takes a while to get there and it’s fairly heavy walking in sand most of the way. It’s well worth it when I finally get to this very long sandy beach which are only occupied by one couple – not another soul to be seen anywhere. It’s fairly late in the afternoon so I waste no time and go into the sea. It’s very rough and possibly very dangerous to go out far because of very strong undercurrents so I keep myself close to shore where I can stand safely and watch the sun going down in the hills behind the beach while being thrown around by the waves.

We book ourselves a VIP shared taxi-van for the next morning that will take us directly to San Jose airport for our flight to Guatemala. It’s an early start but it’s a nice feeling to know we’ll get to the airport in good time without having to stress with connecting busses and taxies in the heavy traffic of central San Jose. At the airport we use our spare time to look for accommodation for the night in Guatemala City and are very pleased when we get a very speedy reply from Hostal La Coperacha. They have a very reasonably priced room available and also arrange a taxi to pick us up from the airport – Happy days!

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