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Our Jubilee: 10 years on the road
Coban (Guatemala) to Antigua )Guatemala), June 2017

Guatemala City is a destination in Guatemala that is skipped by most travellers. And maybe that’s a smart decision. There is not much to see, and for that reason it is also unnecessary to consciously take risks in a city that has such a bad name. But there is also positive news. It's no longer as bad as it was. Of course, there is still a lot of crime and violence, sometimes aimed at tourists, but if you use a bit of common sense you can reduce the risks almost to zero. And with common sense we mean: Do not show of expensive things, avoid the most dangerous neighbourhoods, do not trust people who approach you and are very friendly without any reason, and use after sunset a reliable taxi to move through the city. By observing these rules, we had no problems at all and had a great time in Guatemala City.

Our next destination was the city with the fantastic name Quetzaltenango. It means something like 'the place of the Quetzal'. Unfortunately, this beautiful bird is no longer so common in Guatemala, and you should really do some effort to see this Bird of Paradise-like bird. Quetzaltenango is the second city of Guatemala and a much friendlier and safer place than the capital of the country. The centre is very nice and the city is much more tourist-friendly. The city’s integrated market / bus station is the highlight of the town. Fuming former US school buses live a second life as public bus here and serve almost all parts of the country. On the bus station they fight for the same square meters as the market stall owners, making it a fantastic dynamic place. The constant penetrant diesel vapour makes this undoubtedly the unhealthiest place of the city, but the hectic and colour of the buses and market stalls are unprecedented and, as we said, the city's highlight (see the picture impression of the market / bus station here).

A homeless guy in the streets of Guatemala City
 

After we got ourselves a sore throat, it was time to look for a healthier environment. We went back to the same colourful bus station to take the so-called 'chicken bus' to Lake Atitlan, one of the most visited places of Guatemala. This beautiful lake, at an altitude of 1562 meters, is surrounded by a number of volcanoes, making it an astonishing destination. Around the lake are some villages, all of which are touristy. The one more than the other. We decided to initially visit a slightly less popular village, San Pedro La Laguna. This village is at the foot of the San Pedro volcano, the oldest volcano around the lake. In San Pedro La Laguna we also celebrated our tenth year ‘on the road’ anniversary. In mid-June 2007, we left the Netherlands, and after a period of about eight years in Asia, a year in Europe and a year in the Caribbean and Central America, it is this picturesque lake that is the place to celebrate this anniversary. It was a wonderful time and an once-in-a-lifetime experience!

We visited 78 different countries in these ten years. In some countries we were very long, for example, Indonesia and India, where we stayed for nearly a year. In other countries we came back very often because they are the typical 'node' countries in the region. For example, we arrived 13 times in Thailand and 14 times in Malaysia. In total we flew 119 times, using 29 times Air Asia. Our cheapest flight was in Indonesia, where we flew from Ambon to the Banda Islands for less than 10 Euros per person with the local company Merpati, which is by the way on the blacklist. We crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice by boat and were also twice arrested for a short time. Once in Pakistan, where we were suspected of making pictures of terrorists (see article: Scary moments: Quetta), and once in Mongolia, near the Chinese border, where we were suspected of illegal hunting (see article: Illegal hunters). Most border crossings went smoothly, except for two. At the border crossing between Iraq and Iran, Ivonne had to show a few tears to get our jeep over the border (see article: Stress on the border with Iraq and Iran), while we were seen as potential terrorists as at the border crossing between Belarus and Poland (see article: Edwin & Ivonne: Terrorist Backpackers?). And once we have to send our passports to the Netherlands to apply for a visa. China decided to change the visa rules overnight, which meant that you could only apply for a Chinese visa in your home country. And since the parents of Ivonne came to Asia to travel with us through China, we were forced to arrange the visa in the Netherlands.

Taxi drivers waiting for a ride in Quetzaltenango
 

Our parents visited us five times. Ivonne's parents travelled with us twice, the first time through Thailand/Cambodia/Laos and the second time through China/Nepal/India, while Edwin's parents came three times: to Malaysia, to the Philippines and to the Moluccas in Indonesia (see the video clip: A journey to the Moluccas). These were great trips where our parents left their comfort zones by "backpacking" with us for weeks, often in difficult circumstances. For example, the parents of Ivonne passed already their 65th birthday when they hiked with us the 17-day Manaslu trek in Nepal, were we crossed a pass of almost 5200 meters (see the video clip: Manaslu Trekking). The highest point we reached during the trip was in Iran, where we climbed the highest mountain of the country, Mount Damavand (5609 meters). The highest passes we crossed by car were in Tibet (Gyatso La Pass / 5260 meters) and in India (Tanglang La / 5328 meters). The deepest point we reached was at Coron in the Philippines, where we dived to the shipwreck 'Irako Maru' at about 40 meters under sea level.

We also travelled twice with a group of teenagers, who backpacked with us for more than a month. They are the children of friends of ours who, in turn, each brought a friend. The first time we travelled with four teenagers through China (see the video clip: Backpacking in China), and the second time we took two teenagers to the Philippines (see the video clip: It's more fun in the Philippines). These were great and fun experiences because traveling with others, especially teenagers, gives a whole new facet to travel. We did not want to miss it. But now we are in the most famous colonial town of Guatemala, Antigua, and the time of looking back is over. It’s time to focus on the future again.

Procession in Quetzaltenango
Rainy season in Guatemala: dark clouds above Lake Atitlan just after sunset
A bus finds its way through the market area of San Pedro La Laguna

Street scene in Antigua

Souvenir seller on a weekend day in Antigua when the tourists from Guatemala City come in

 
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