Panajachel | Santa Cruz

16.01.2018 – 20.01.2018

I was really lucky. My friends Kevin and Lexa left also the same day for Panajachel. The good thing was that they are travelling by car so they gave me a lift to Panajachel. The view from the steep street from Solola to Panajachel was amazing. Arrived in Panajachel we had to pay 10Q fee for entering Pana. First night in Pana was not that spectacular.

Next day we went to the Reserva Natural Atitlán (2.5 km from the centre to the west). It was amazing. The price of 70Q was worth it. The have a butterfly house, a nice walk to the lake with some “self-made” looking bridges.

The monkey and the coatis were funny to feed. One banana cost 1Q for feeding them. Also do not forget to walk to the waterfall. It was a lovely day there and for sure worth it to go when you are staying in Pana.

Also the same day we needed to find out when the first ferry to Santa Cruz leaves. So we walked to the ferry station in the west. And we found out that the first leaves around 6:30 am and every ca. 20 min others and the cost 15Q (one way).

That night we ate at Pupuseria Cheros, the served awesome cheap pupusas (from Salvador). They were really delicious. Also the have a nice deal for beer!

Diving Day in Santa Cruz

On Friday we woke up early to catch an early boat to Santa Cruz for our high altitude diving course. Took a boat around 7:00 am to Santa Cruz, where our course started around 8:00. The two dives were not that spectacular but the skills and theory I learnt were interesting. Highlights of the dives: there were some hot spots in the lake where the volcano warms up the water; you can even cook an egg there. The hotel which is partially underwater is also really nice to see and do not forget to look for the crabs in the lake that are hunting some fishes. Get some impression on my youtube channel.

The dive with atidivers.com was 100$ (70 for the dives and 30 for the certificate) including all gear and there would have been even one night for free in the dormitory included.

In the evening I went to the market in Pana (main street) to buy a leather belt and some post cards. Haggling and bargain hard!

Next day I was ready to leave and went to the ferry station to take an early boat to Panajachel. Watch out, ask where the ferry will leave, there are two ferry stations. Don’t make the same mistake and walk with all bags to the wrong station.

The boat trip was 25Q + 5 Q (due to many bags…) and the duration was around 30 minutes. So around 9:00 am I arrived in Santiago.

Recommendations:

  • If you want to dive: atidivers.com, the spots in the lake are not that spectacular but I did it because was my first lake dive and high altitude dive
  • Reserva Natural Atitlán, butterflies, monkey and cuaties (70Q)
  • Boat to Santa Cruz (15Q), first around 6:30 am and last around 16:30
  • Boat to Santiago 25Q – 30Q
  • Pupuseria Cheros, eat some pupusas

 

Quite Puerto Vallarta

22.09.2017 – 27.09.2017

After some incredible time in Mexico City (CDMX, cuidad de mexico) I finally boarded the flight to Puerto Vallarta. The check-in was really quick I liked the modern and quick check-in with volaris. The flight was around 70 euros. Arrived in PVR we took an Uber to our accommodation was roughly 100 MXN from the Airport to the Malecon. That night we visited the Cuban bar and restaurant called La Bodeguita del Medio, which is the copy of the original in Havana. As soon as I entered the Cuban bar I had a flashback to my time in Cuba. People dance Salsa and the mojito with that awesome atmosphere was amazing. The night was not finished and we changed location, the new club was called Mandala and the fee was 100 MXN. The music and the location was nice for spending more hours deep into the night.

The second day in PVR started with an awesome breakfast / lunch at the “La Tostaderia” (Calle Iturbide 235). Try the Enchiladas verde de pollo, sopes con tres carnes with a flamed banana with butter, coffee, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream dessert!!!!

Day trip to Yelapa

With an Uber we drove around 30 minutes along the coast to the south. Our boat waited in Boca de Tomatlán, which droves us to Yelapa. Uber cost 200 MXN, the taxi back 300 MXN and the boat trip 180 MXN.

In Yelapa a nice small village waited for us, walk to the waterfall, ca 15 minutes (take the 3rd stop in Yelapa or ask for the waterfall (cascada) when you are on the boat). Take a swim in the pool of the waterfall and do not forget to have a massage from the nature.

As far as I remember our boat left 15:00 Boca de Tomatlán and was going back around 17:50. Unfortunately we could not spend much time there. So my recommendation is to take an earlier boat. Also take a plastic bag for the protection of your electronics, it could rain on the roofless boat.

http://www.yelapafun.com/about-yelapa/getting-to-yelapa/yelapa-water-taxi-information/

Spend the some night in the airbnb at Casa Sandía awesome ambient and relaxing.

For dinner we had pizza and pasta in La Dolce Vita. The pizza was really good for one outside of Italy.

On Monday I changed to a hostel due to budget reason. With the saved money I could reserve two days of scuba diving.

Diving first day:

Los Archos, Punta Mismaloya 1530 Pesos with all gear (got 10% off). Also we had a small incident. My budy Marc, his valve was not fully opened and after 30 minutes at a deep of 51 ft he had to do a an emergency accent due to his distance to us. Always check the valve opening twice. Fortunately nothing happened

Second day:

Islas de Marietas 1980 Pesos (15% off), one dive near to a wall (El Amarradero) and some cool caves and tunnels. Second spot (El Bajo de la Manta) had more fish also saw a tiger ray. The whole dive was had more fishes and other animals.

Also included in the trip was the visit to playa del amor (also called hidden beach). We had to swim there because the entry was just a small tunnel. Also we were really lucky that the tide was low enough to enter the tunnel.

Next to my hostal was a small restaurant owned by Emra the German. You get cheap beer for 25 pesos, good tequila also try out the steak there! The place was called Heavy-Taco-Metal and is in the street Lucerna.

After some days in Puerto Vallarta, we decided to go to Sayulita. The bus cost 45 pesos and took 1h 30 minutes.

 

Recommendations:

  • Islas Marietas / hidden beach / playa de amor
  • Walk at the Malecon
  • Eat at “La Tostaderia” (Calle Iturbide 235)
  • Visit Boca de Tomatlán and Yelapa, maybe stay there for a night
  • Dive near to Islas Marietas
  • Smoke a cigar in the Cuban restaurant
  • Have a beer in Heavy Taco Metal restaurant and greet Emra.
  • Spend some night at Casa Sandía

 

Playa Larga 21.07 – 23.07

Schweinebucht, bay of pigs or simply bahía de cochinos
Divers should stay more nights in the bay of pigs!

After a bad attempt to buy a ticket from Viazul to leave Habana to Playa Larga, we had to deal with the “greedy” colectivo drivers. The tickets for leaving Habana for the next day were all sold out and we had no other choice than hire a colectivo driver. After 35 minutes of bargaining we had to accept the offer of 25 CUC per person without pick up. After 3 hours of sleep, we were ready for leaving Habana and left our known casa perticulares to discover more from Cuba. Around 8:45 we arrived at the Viazul station and our agent was also there. I think he had to protect us like goods from other drivers, maybe we would have found a better deal, you never know. Anyway, after a while our agent could find a taxi that picked us up and finally we were on the road.
But wait there was at first a better attempt, a small Suzuki picked us up and the driver asked us where in Santa Clara we want to go. So our response: Playa Larga not Santa Clara. The Suzuki came to a full halt and the driver was swearing to our agent and we could leave our “taxi”.

The “real” colectivo was a big jeep with 8 tourists inside and everybody paid 25 CUC. A commission for the agent some CUC for petrol. I think they make good business, which also a hard working Cuban confirmed me. People working for the tourist or with the tourist are from the upper class.

We were happy when we saw the sign of leaving Habana, the happiness did not last long. Due to a stop at the workshop our journey was more delayed. No worries it is normal in Cuba. Enjoy the moment.
Finally we have made some progress and after a small break at Jagüey Grande we enter Playa Larga, where we got off the colectivo.

Right next to the big crab statue in the centre the tourist information waited for us. The lady there was so nice and helpful and explained us everything. Even could she recommend a casa perticulares nearby, which we booked and not a single penny did we regret our decision. The name was: Hostal Caribé Kairos 2 minutes from the local shop.

After a small break we went on our first adventure: the crocodile farm. Taxi from the centre to the farm would have cost around 20 CUC. We decided to do the Cuban way –> colectivo. After spending some minutes for waiting and 2 CUC spent we arrived at the farm (5 CUC). The crocodile were awesome there were even other animals but after 1h – 2h you have seen it all. With a bottle of rum and thirst for adventure we began looking for a colectivo. After many failed attempt and a bus driver that wanted to rip us off, we finally found a lovely family who gave a lift back to Playa Larga (2 CUC).

Some Wi-Fi, good Rum and the heat made us very hungry. A big big big dinner waited for us! Rice, breaded chicken, mashed potato, vegetable soup and for dessert pomelo.

Full with food and delicious Cuban tastes we headed to the nearby carnival. Fancy self-made attraction could have been seen in action. Also some “tattoo” sprayers were doing their jobs for children, which we for sure also tried. The fancy attraction was 5 MN and the tattoo 2 CUC.

Diving, Diving, Diving
On Saturday we booked a diving tour. But before it started we woke up to a fabulous breakfast. At 8:00 am the bus picked us up at the crab statue and we headed to the diving centre. Geared up, we were on the way to the first diving spot. Three dive groups were made: zero dives, open water and advanced. Alex with zero dives had a small introduction and also had some tasks to do in and underwater. I went with the open water group and enjoyed the dive to the fullest. The advance group went to another spot where they could dive through tunnels and small caves, awesome, maybe next time J. We booked this tour at the tourist centre, Alex paid 25 CUC + 10 CUC (introduction), I paid 25 CUC for one dive. You could also dive a second time for additional 25 CUC but they told me snorkelling is way better at the second spot, so I did snorkelling. The second spot was a breath-taking beach also nearby was a 70 m deep cenote. Around 15:00 we were back at Playa Larga where we met Sanchez (colectivo agent). We booked a colectivo for 10 CUC to Cienfuegos next day.

 

Saturday we discovered the surrounding of our casa perticulares. A small visit to the bar nearby and an awesome time with the casa family at the carnival filled Saturday night. The stars and the milky way were awesome that night. Walk a little bit north outside of Playa Larga to see them clearer. Do not forget to visit the crab and the tank.

The stay in Playa Larga was awesome, I think the lovely and warm family in our chosen casa perticulares made the visit 3 times better. Food, bed, services and conversations were fabulous. You could feel that the family loved and liked the job of hosting tourists. Thank you very much for the good time!!!

 

Recommendations:

  • Crocodile farm in combination with colectivo
  • Dive tour for 25 CUC (advanced dive spot sounds awesome)
  • Visit casa perticulare Hostal Caribe Koibe, 53537192, Entroque Playa Larga C-5ta #88 e/ 4ta y final, viltres@nauta.cu
  • Enjoy the stars and milky way
  • Beach
  • Cenote
  • Dive enthusiast can maybe stay in Playa Giron (Dive centre also there)
    • Dive 25 CUC, night dive 35 CUC (lonely planet)

 

***Lovely Cienfuegos***

 

THE BAY OF PIGS

What the Cubans call Playa Girón, the rest of the world has come to know as the Bay of Pigs, a disastrous attempt by the Kennedy administration to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. Conceived in 1959 by the Eisenhower administration and headed up by deputy director of the CIA, Richard Bissell, the plan to initiate a program of covert action against the Castro regime was given official sanction on March 17, 1960. There was but one proviso: no US troops were to be used in combat. The CIA modelled its operation on the 1954 overthrow of the left-leaning government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. However, by the time President Kennedy was briefed on the proceedings in November 1960, the project had mushroomed into a full-scale invasion backed by a 1400-strong force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles and financed with a military budget of US$13 million.

Activated on April 15, 1961, the invasion was a disaster from start to finish. Intending to wipe out the Cuban Air Force on the ground, US planes painted in Cuban Air Force colours (and flown by Cuban exile pilots) missed most of their intended targets. Castro, who had been forewarned of the plans, had scrambled his air force the previous week. Hence, when the invaders landed at Playa Girón two days later, Cuban sea furies were able to promptly sink two of their supply ships and leave a force of 1400 men stranded on the beach. To add insult to injury, a countrywide Cuban rebellion that had been much touted by the CIA never materialized. Meanwhile a vacillating Kennedy told Bissell he would not provide the marooned exile soldiers with US air cover. Abandoned on the beaches, without supplies or military back-up, the invaders were doomed. There were 114 killed in skirmishes and a further 1189 captured. The prisoners were returned to the US a year later in return for US$53 million worth of food and medicine. The Bay of Pigs failed due to a multitude of factors. First, the CIA had overestimated the depth of Kennedy’s personal commitment and had made similarly inaccurate assumptions about the strength of the fragmented anti-Castro movement inside Cuba. Second, Kennedy himself, adamant all along that a low-key landing should be made, had chosen a site on an exposed strip of beach close to the Zapata swamps. Third, no one had given enough credit to the political and military know-how of Fidel Castro or to the extent to which the Cuban Intelligence Service had infiltrated the CIA’s supposedly covert operation. The consequences for the US were far-reaching. ‘Socialism or death!’ a defiant Castro proclaimed at a funeral service for seven Cuban ‘martyrs’ on April 16, 1961. The Revolution had swung irrevocably toward the Soviet Union. Lonely Planet, Cuba, 8th Edition, 2015, page 234.

Saipan

After an awesome flight with the turbo prop machine we finally landed on Saipan and enjoyed the weather.

At 16:00 we met our host, Tillman (from Couchsurfing) at Cafe Mango Six. It was my very first couchsurfing experience.

Anyway he welcomed us and he showed our place for sleeping -> two couches. No problem because he already informed us before that we “just” have a couch for sleeping. His place was awesome, small but was located in the paradise.

saipan_lower001

The same night we hit the beach bar at the Fiesta hotel and had an awesome first sunset on Saipan.

We called a day and recharged our battery for the next day: Snorkelling at the Pau Pau Beach.

We parked the car at the parking lot and walked as long as we could along the beach to the north where we set up our base. https://goo.gl/oWfB8O
Then we took our snorkelling gear and swam more to the north where the reef started.

 

Also on our list was a car trip around the island. I just list some location you should visit:

  • WWII Memorials and Last Japanese Command Post
  • Banzai Cliff
  • Suicide Cliff
  • The Grotto (take swimsuit and snorkelling gear with you)
  • Bird Island Beach!!!
  • Bird Island Lookout
  • Kalebera Cave (was not that spectacular)
  • Marine Beach and Tank Beach

For going back, we took the Middle Road from the Cave to Rte 320, the street or let’s say it was a small way is no tarmac just gravel. So, I recommend you that way back just with a 4 by 4. Due to enoguh time we also went to the Marine Beach and Tank Beach.

Next day we went diving with speedy turtle. Two tanks with full gear (no computer) cost 300$, first location was Lau Lau Beach and second one was the Grotto! Please see the other article I wrote for more impressions.

Under Water World Saipan

 

It was time to test our adventure skills. From our lovely host, we borrowed camping gear. Tent, air mattress and some courage.

That day we went fully packed with camping gear, enough sushi for a seven-person family, enough beer, whiskey and some dessert to the micro beach where we hired a small ship for giving us a lift to Managha Island!!!

Some organization comments:
Our host organized a permit for camping on the island, it takes usually two working days for getting one, price 0$.
The lift to the island costs 20$ to 25$, also it depends on the time you arrive. If you arrive early you have to pay an additional entry fee on the island. If you arrive later around 15:30 or 16:00 the ticket shop is closed.
We asked the people there for a boat ride the same day it think it was around afternoon 15:00.
My recommendation go to the micro beach and you will see some people that offer the rides. Asked for one the same day.

Thank you Tillman for that hint!!!

Anyway, on the boat our adventure started, we left the boat, I gave the captain and the assistant some sip of my whiskey as a tip :). And told them that they should pick us up at 10:00 next morning!!! From then on, we were alone and nothing could help us, just we two against the nature!!! The night was horrible!!! We had to fight against outrageous crabs there were thousands of them….. That night I could barely sleep. I was happy when we left the island and we were safe again and survived that adventure.

JK, I fully recommend to camp on the island!

Take enough food, alcohol, water and music with you -> then you are safe ;).

 

It was as I remember correctly the day  near to Thailand New Year’s Eve therefore we went to a Thai restaurant which had at that night a delicious buffet!!!!

But before I tell you about the Thai party, I tell you about my experience at Bubba Gump restaurant. Maybe some of you remember Forrest Gump? That day I did not because I could not remember due to my lack of knowing about Forrest Gump. I am a little bit ashamed to tell you that I have never seen Forrest Gump at that time…

Anyway, in the restaurant I had no chance to answer the quiz….
At that moment, I decided with my friend that we will watch Forrest Gump together back at home and also we will cook shrimp that day.

Decided and done 😉 and now I can proudly tell that I have seen Forrest Gump!!!

Back to my story on Saipan. The same day we have met Mike and Anna (from Couchsurfing). Together we went to Mount Tapochau to see the sunset!!!!! Awesome was also the ride on the back on the pick-up from Mike!!!!

After the sunset, we headed to the Thai party / restaurant. That restaurant I also fully recommend for eating.

The name was Spicy Thai Noodle Place. That night the buffet was just 10$ all you could eat. Water fight and flour fight was included due to the tradition of Thailand. I will never forget that!!! The same night we met some lovely funny Chinese people with whom we had great fun and some rounds of beer.

For our last day on Saipan we decided to relax a little bit at the beach near the tank wreck. https://goo.gl/UEtGkl

And from then on, the travel back to Switzerland was right a head from us!

But for a lovely ending here some nice panorama from our adventure in the pacific.

 

My recommendations:

  • Godfathers for a good night at a pub
  • Beach bar (fiesta hotel) for a beer with sunset
  • Snorkelling at Pau Pau Beach
  • View from the mountain
  • Bird Island Beach (park here   and walk down to the beach)
  • Dive in the Grotto with Speedy Turtle
  • Camping on Managha Island
  • Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff
  • WWII Memorial and Last Command Post
  • Snorkelling to the rusty tank
  • Eat sushi at Himawari
  • Eat Thai at Spicy Noodles

 

Underwater World Saipan

We had the pleassure to dive around Saipan. Our choosen dive company was speedy turtle and the price was average on Saipan. I did two dive, one at Lau Lau Beach and one in the Grotto on Saipan. My friend did two other dives near some ship wrecks. Anyway the dives were interesting and also the grey barren dive scenery at Lau Lau Beach was interesting due to the awesome rope route trough the different holes and tunnels. For me it was the perfect start after my last dives on Palau. Enjoy the pictures and the movie! The Grotto is a must for all divers on Saipan!

Saipan Adventure with a small glimpse of Guam

It was already time again for my next adventure.

This time I booked a cheap flight to Saipan. My diving buddy joined also.

Our travel path was following:

ZRH Frankfurt by bus
Frankfurt Seoul Saipan Guam

  • One night in Frankfurt
  • Stopover of 9h in Seoul
  • approximately 4 days on Guam
  • 7.5 days on Saipan

The reason why I booked a flight to Saipan is simple: the price of the flight ticket.
Maybe it was an errore fare again? 550 CHF for the flight from Frankfurt to Seoul to Saipan, which included a flight with the A380, awesome.

Chapters:

Frankfurt and Seoul
Guam
Saipan
Underwater World Saipan