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Waiting it out: Quetzaltenang (Xela)

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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I kind of had to do some strategic planning as I was reaching my last country of Mexico, but more importantly the holiday season of Semana Santa was quickly approaching. Semana Santa is a cumulation of events and activities which lead up to what is our Easter Sunday. Here in Latin America Semana Santa ranks up there with Christmas as much of the countries residents take the week off to either go home for the week, prepare for the week long celebrations at home, or to go off on a less traditional vacation to the beach, mountains, or vacation spot of their choice. What that meant for me was partially some activities to see, but more importantly a log jam on the transportation and lodging scene. In Guatemala, Guatemala city and Antigua are the two main points of interest and people worldwide plan a year in advance to partake in the week long celebrations. As I had already done those two locations I figured that the best plan of attack would be to pick a somewhat outlying town not so much on the tourist trail, but large enough to have some events that would be interesting to watch.

Xela is considered a good mix with it being a moderately large town, there is no mass tourism but the town itself has a somewhat draw in that it is unique in that for a time the Germans infiltrated the town and built a central park which is more European Colonial than Central American. Xela also became known as a spanish language school center with students who are fairly serious about learning as well as doing more local integration type projects.

My first couple of days I did not click with it. I had a little bit more than a week before Easter but I was fine with dropping anchor for a while and taking a break before my final push through Mexico. Right off the bat it was kind of a hassle as the but station is pretty far from the town center and I had to walk quite a distance through the hectic market area just to get to where the local mini buses were located that would take you into the center of town. Fortunately a guy who was on the main bus I was on asked if I wanted to follow him as he was also headed into town. In town minibuses are kind of a pain especially when you are carrying your pack but without another viable option I had to do it. After a scrunched drive I got off in the central park area. It looked pleasant enough and seemed like a nice chill place. My next priority was getting a room. As I was going to be staying for a while I definitely wanted a place with a tv and a hot shower. What I learned walking around was that all the little places around the town center had been converted to these spanish schools/guesthouses. Every single one I looked at while doing my snail shell circle around the park area were the same thing. They were okay places, but they catered to the cheap backpacker who just wanted basic rooms or dorms. I wanted comfort and I just couldn´t find a thing. Hours later I found a little place on the top of a strip mall. It probably was a decent place at one time but it looked like the owners just didn´t give a shit and let it go to hell. It was dark and dingy and somewhat sketchy looking but in reality it was an okay place to stay. There were no outsided windows to give any natural light so walking through the halls and even my room was pitch black without some other light source. The room that had a tv didn´t have a key as they couldn´t find it but it was a nice family who promised that no one was able to walk around without them seeing them, so I gave it a try. Another issue I had was that the central park area was dead. Usually central parks are the main hub of activity for cities but for some reason although beautiful and neat, there weren´t that many people around. Food was also a problem as the usual food stall that usual circle the park in the evenings were non existent. It also was plagued by the darkness disappearance of people where as soon as the sun goes down everybody disappears and all business are closed and locked up. My last big problem was that the way the central area was designed most roads are all one way single lane roads with maybe one to two foot sidewalks on either side. Just walking around was a hazard as you were rubbing elbows/sideview mirrors just walking down the street. I just didn´t have a good vibe about the place and now was worried at what I was going to do.

Fortunately, on one of my neighborhood strolls I headed up hill to see if there was anything else to see in the town. A couple of kilometers up the hill I ran into the busy market area and where another park was. This was the hub of the town and which was crammed with activity. I was much more interested in this area and found a hotel that was fairly nice right on the edge of the busy market. It fit all my requirements so I packed my stuff and moved over. What a huge difference that made. Things are open all the time, there is stuff going on, things to see, and as I was more comfortable at where I was at it gave me time to explore the city.

Xela once you get away from the central park area is very interesting. There are two very busy markets one in the area I am at and also one by the main bus terminal. The markets are also almost strictly run by the very colorful clothed ladies from the highlands but are much bigger. There are less visited but just as colonial looking areas dotted throughout the town. I found the modern shopping mall areas and got to be civilized for a few hours. Food options are everywhere with excellent almuerzos and cenas as well as my favorite italian restaurant right across from the hotel. Internet is the cheapest that I have seen averaging around $.30 an hour. And to top it off I have a pretty good assortment of English tv channels.

My original plan was to take a break for a few days and head on down to the Pacific side beach at Champerico, I started to read about how busy the beach resort places had been getting and figured it wouldn´t be worth the hassle for only a few days and I would be spending some quality time there in Mexico anyway.

So for now I am just sitting in Xela with a few activities during the first part of the week with the major processions being thursday through Sunday.

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I found this little cafeteria warehouse where a bunch of mamas set up there little food stalls. Great local food for 15Q / $1.85US.

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The Central Park European gothic buildings.

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Yea, Mcdonald´s.

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Yup, they have volcanoes overlooking the park as well.

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Amazing diet food. Watermelon, pineapple, mangoes, papaya,and strawberries, covered in honey. Wow. Usually I don´t find watermelon and papaya sweet enough to be considered a dessert food, but add honey and they are excellent. Highly recommended. 5Q.

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This and the following pictures are of a parade that went past the hotel (nice having a balcony). The lady at reception told me it was put on by the local University students. From what I can tell it was sort of geared towards crime/criminals, police, government, and all the corruption that it entails. They staged little skits where half of them were in criminal outfits and the other half were in police outfits. The police would come and arrest all the criminals, then the criminals would slip someone some money and they would all be let loose. The funner things they did would pull people out of the crowd and make them jump rope, grab girls and make them salsa with them, hand out condoms, ask for donations, and basically have a good time.
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The history of boots.

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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The trip is winding down, but unfortunately not fast enough as my transportation had become, well, worn out. My trusty leather boots which I purchased right after finishing my last big trek, Everest Base Camp, have finally become too worn to wear. The leather tops are still okay, especially after a $2Q shoe shines at the park, but both soles had wear spots which left my socks exposed. The base of the shoes basically crumbled apart so it was like walking in potholes on every step. The biggest factor however was that after one step in slightly damp or a puddle left my socks at the end of the day feeling like the consistency of a thin flip flop. They were crusty and it really started to stink. Stopping off at shoe shops to see about getting resoled, they did not have the same style sole so the only thing that could be done would be to shave the bottoms and then glue, stitch, and nail on a new soles. I have done that before on my black Merrels which I used in Africa, but they just can´t handle the abuse and start to seperate really quickly. Once that happens you have to super glue every other day and risk the chance of losing the sole in the worst possible location. So, I broke down and spent a couple of days scouring the town checking out a couple of markets, the central park shops, and even a couple of modern shopping malls. In the end I found a worthy pair in one of the shoe stores on the shoe street by the central market. I was contemplating sticking to my normal trekking boot style in leather, but as usual trekking stuff tends to be either really cheap or if you can find it overpriced western branded good boots. I actually probably looked at a thousand pairs of shoots before finding one style that I liked and which ended up to be the only pair available. They are a brand named Flexi which are a shoe company in Mexico who specialize in better than average leather shoes. Instead of going hiking style they are a low cut shoe/trekkers. For fifty bucks they were a bit much for Central America, but I figure they will work well back home as casual wear as well.

History of boots….Steveislost.

1) Merrel´s bought via the internet. Too small and killed my feet in the Venezuela trek.
2) Merrel´s bought in Bogota, Colombia. Water resistent high tech canvas style.
3) Merrel´s bought in Cape town, South Africa. Full leather, waterproof, Goretex.
4) Merrel´s bought in Baalbek, Lebanon. Used, $20US, full leather.
5) Uplander´s bought in Polkara, Nepal. Full leather, waterproof.
6) Flexi´s bought in Xela, Guatemala. Full leather, lowcut.

My switch to full leather is two parts. The canvas style boots even the expensive ones tend to split at the seams where they attach to the soles. Also, with full leather I get to utilize the services of the shoe shine guys. This is another one of those issues where you get to help somebody (but not having to give straight out to begging) but also you have nice and shiney almost new like appearance shoes. Lastly, I do like to fit in a bit and wearing the candy colored full on trekking boots just doesn´t fit if you go out somewhere nice whereby some nice fully polished all leather boots have a bit of sports casual look to them.

Secondary footwear:
Teva trekking sandals, internet.
all rubber strap sandals, local market.
Fake teva sandals, Polkara, Nepal market.
four pairs of standard flip flops, local markets.

Steve´s theory of traveling footwear.

I find that their is a lot of different perspectives on the footwear issue going from guys walking around barefoot to people wearing $500 trekking boots who never walk farther than the taxi to the doorway of their next destination. It is kind of like that question people ask about what you are carrying in your backpack. My answer tends to be that regardless of what you learn about the subject, in the long run you will revert back to the lifestyle that you live at home and follow that same pattern. In regards to backpacks and stuff, if you are a pack rat back at home, you are going to carry a massively overstuffed pack, a day pack and probably a third bag for the other stuff that doesn´t fit in the others. If you are a minimalist then you will probably be like me and are constantly justifying every item you carry. No different for the footwear.

For my personal choice, I do like to go to the more extreme side of wearing heavier duty trekking boots. I do like to get out in the wilderness, regardless how much I write about preferring to sit in front of the tv watching other people go out into the wilderness, and actually use them for what they are designed for. Also, people don´t realize that even if you are a city dweller, there are not the uniform sidewalk standards that you would find in the US. Roads are pretty shit everywhere, so you need to remember that the walking areas are not going to be spectacular. For instance, you can have a block of businesses side by side with one walk way running across all of them. As everybodies business is different, that difference is also carried out along the walkway as every section is at a different heighth making it no different than the stone steps required to climb to Everest Base Camp. Add the fact that a lot of places don´t even have tarred roads so you are basically doing nothing different than taking any mountain path. My motorcycle days also encouraged heavy duty foot security as things are so compacted that you run the risk of losing anything sticking outside the perimeter of your handle bars of footpegs. Cow shit, dog shit, cat shit, bird shit, pig shit, etc., cow piss, dog piss, cat piss, bird piss, pig piss, etc., human fluids of all types, and in man made pollution, soften in up with a bit of water, let it metabolize and fester, and you have every square inch of walking space, enough said on that. Bug bites, sun burn, snake bites, religious aspects, and civilized appearance are also moderately influential issues. Finally, a good example is if you think of what type of vehicle you would want if you had to drive across Africa. Most people would of course say a Land Cruiser or something of that sort (although in reality you would be fine if you used a scooter as 95% of anywhere a normal tourist would want to go is perfectly fine tarred/dirt roads), because they would want to have something that would be made for the ruggedness. But often times you ask people about footwear and they say of flip flops or tennis shoes. A final example for my way of thinking is that I look towards the military. The military probably requires the most extreme usage out of footwear. They aren´t carrying 75lb packs, hoofing it up and down mountains in flip flops or tennis shoes. They are in heavy duty boots that give support, protection, and will last. Enough said.

In regards of the name game, I started out much like everybody else buying shoes based on the name brand and price. In general, the rule that you get what you pay for is fairly true, but in reality nothing is going to last when you are really doing some long term traveling or trekking. They are just not made for longevity. All of my boots lasted about a year with some falling apart all over and the leather ones which held together but I just ended up walking the soles off. The biggest disappointment was the waterproof capabilities. I really like that aspect because I hate having to walk around stuff (puddles) especially when you are on a long grueling hike, but it is worse to have muddy wet feet, so in the beginning I was paying the extra money for the added benefits. Unfortunately, the waterproof capabilities work, but only for short term. It´s another one of those wear out factors that I unfortunately don´t think they have perfected (with the exception of the $5US rubber boots which I got in Vietnam and made riding in the rain no problem). Now, after a lot of trekking, I don´t worry about it anymore and just walk through whatever just knowing that there is not much you can do about it and it is not worth the time to take the boots on and off (crossing rivers), trying to stay out of puddles, or basically being a whoosy. Just look at it like the locals do, its a part of life that you just deal with and not worry about it.

And finally, take shoes that you can get cleaned and polished so you can support the shoe shiners which are all over the world who are doing something with their lives and deserve all the help that they can get. Shoe shiners I have found are some of the most honorable people I have met as they are the ones who probably don´t have a lot of options but are not willing to sell out their souls by begging, stealing, or giving up and being alcoholics or drug addicts.

Responses to Comments: Late again, sorry for the rudeness.

Friday, March 26th, 2010
1. Mark in Delhi To the author of this misinformed and patriotic blog post about India, accept it - India is one of the filthiest places on the planet. I am a well traveled expat, I’ve been to China, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: Chichicastenango (Chi Chi), Guatemala, market day.

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
dscn1701.JPG The church overlooking the market. It is a standard Catholic affair but as the locals had been primarily Mayan, a lot of the ritual is a sort of mix. Throughout the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chichicastenango – Guatemala’s Largest Market

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
dscn1705.JPG Chichicastenango (Chi Chi) is a small Mayan town in the western highlands of Guatemala which is famous for its traditional market. Market days are Thursday and Sunday and, each week, the colorful scene ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: Market day, Solola, Guatemala

Friday, March 19th, 2010
pana-6.JPG The central plaza was right in the middle of the market. This is the biggest market day in the area. Pretty much the whole town was lined with market stall. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: Lake Atitlan and Panajachel

Friday, March 19th, 2010
dscn1677.JPG Unfortunately a bit hazy for photos but you can make out the many fingers sticking out into the lake. dscn1680.JPG The water taxi depot. [Continue reading this entry]

Panajachel, Guatemala: Hitting the highlands

Friday, March 19th, 2010
pana-5.JPG Panajachel or Pana is located on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The lake side villages are another of Guatemala trophy tourist locations. Pana is the most touristy almost tailoring specifically to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: Antigua, Guatemala

Friday, March 19th, 2010
antigua.JPG A church by my hotel where the food vendors set up. antigua-1.JPG If it wasn´t so hazy, you could see a volcano right down the street. It ... [Continue reading this entry]

Guatemala couture: Antigua, Guatemala

Friday, March 19th, 2010
antigua-7.JPG After a long walk and a "chicken bus", I arrived in the shining star of Guatemala. Pretty much all the latin american countries have one, a sort of made up town based ... [Continue reading this entry]