CENTRAL AMERICA
ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS

Ancient Civilizations is a 23 day Peregrine tour of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. I had an extra day in Mexico City at the start to get over any jetlag and four extra days for the Adventure World Travel's tour of Copan and Quirigua. I finished off with a days lay-over in LA to catch my flight home.

CENTRAL AMERICA - TRAVEL LOG

Saturday
June 13
Flying in via LA was messy at terminal 2, with them getting me to queue again when they decided I was too early by 15 minutes. I landed in Mexico City and was greeted by my transfer. I attempted to get in the drivers seat .. darn even after all you know, after 18 hours in transit you still forget they drive on the wrong side of the road!

Perigrine's choice of hotel was definitely past its best before date and was hot, noisy air conditioning and noises from the street as if the windows were open. But still we were right across the road from a dairy where I got water, food and supplies (51 peco @ 11 peco to the NZ dollar was under NZ$5) and the ATM was in the shop on the corner.
Sunday
June 14
This day was the first day of the Peregrine tour and we were to meet the crew at 6pm.

After breakfast, I walked the 3.7km to the museum. The main road Reforma Ave was a wide boulevard with a central island for joggers, park benches etc. They had roundabouts with statues and trees making it interesting. On the weird side was the number of armed police. They were liberally sprinkled around every block, typically on the corners. Then they had the traffic police who directed traffic with a whistle and a blind eye for j-walkers. The federali police were heavily armed with guns, body armour, riot shields and helmets for instant response. Toyota utes and dodge police cars with lights flashing also made clear the police presence.

The National Museum of Anthropology was big with some 23 rooms only rooms 5-10 inclusive had the goods from an ancient civilisation point of view. I spend from 10am until 3pm walking the rooms and seeing some amazing items from my books.

I returned to the hotel and meet the rest of the tour at 6pm. The guide Gabriel was late. We proceeded to have dinner at a local restaurant/food hall. It was okay, but pricey for what it was.
Monday
June 15
Monday is when things are closed so we took a day trip from the city to visit the site of Teotihuacan with the pyramids of the sun and moon and the temple of quetzalcoatl. We had a different guide for the day and Gabriel was guiding another group on the same site. We visited the palace of the jaguar and climbed the pyramid of the moon, looking down the avenue of the dead. We then walked it just past the pyramid of the sun where I ducked away to visit the on site museum. Not very big but worth a visit since it was included in the ticket cost.

We then visited the second most visited religious site after Meca, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe before having tacos and beer at a local restaurant. The selection of chilli sauces were worth a try and the beer was nice and cool to wash it all down with. That evening Luke, Sezan and myself found a nice restaurant with even better tacos and blue corn tortillas.
Tuesday
June 16
Today was the city tour, with visit to the National Palace, Templo mayor and museum scheduled.

I never have high expectations about city tours and this was no exception with a cramped little 16 seater minibus were the back seats were so high you couldn't see anything. We got out and walked to a monument showing the foundation of Mexico with the eagle eating a snake on a cactus and was shown the site where the statue of Aztec goddess Coatlicue was discovered. We would see this later in the museum.

We then headed on to the National Palace which wasn't open so we stood outside the Templo Mayor (without having the option to enter, despite being listed as a tour optional). It was hot and the sun kept heating up as the morning progressed. We were not allowed bags, hats or sunglasses in the National Palace so they were left in the bus. We then proceeded to spend the next two hours in the palace having a series of paintings explained to us in depth. We were dying for our water and sun protection, but Gabriel tortured us with his monolog in painful detail.

Finally reunited with our water on the bus, we made our way to the museum, only to hear that we had to leave these on the bus again. We started with lunch at the museum restaurant where a family of squirrels entertained us by grabbing chips off vacant tables and scurrying their loot back up into the trees. The museum tour was just one hour long and only covered the Aztec and Mayan rooms (7 and 10). Disappointed at the briefness of the visit, Luke and I stayed on and covered the other main rooms where I had items I had specifically looked for having discovered I had missed them on the Sunday visit. I was so dehydrated when I got back to the hotel it wasn't funny. My bag with drink etc was left on the bus as the others on the tour had gone from the museum on either to the hotel or to Freida Kahlo museum.
Wednesday
June 17
We departed for Puebla with a 2.5 hour drive. Puebla is a charming world heritage site city featuring Colonial Spanish architecture. There were flea markets, stalls and cobbled streets. From a food perspective we found Tacos 25P ($2nz), Nachos 50P ($4.50nz) and Bohemian beer 35P ($3nz). I purchased Pakal's tomb lid for 75P just as a storm hit. I was soaked to the bone with the torrential rain and the flooding from this storm made the news.

We had dinner at a restaurant reputed to be the former residence of China Poblana, where I had a Mole dish called El Manchmenteles. Unfortunately we were eaten alive by the local mosquitos.
Thursday
June 18
Today we had the long drive to Oaxaca (Wo-haka), arriving for a late lunch. I had chicken stuffed with goats cheese, whilst outside it rained.

We had free time to explore the town, so I visited the Oaxaca Cultural Museum and saw the pre-columbian remains and items recovered from tomb 7 in Monte Alban. The pre-columbian artifacts were in a few rooms, with the items recovered from tomb 7 being the highlight, but the building was vast and had one of the best bookstores we saw on tour. I carried on to explore the town and market in the square.
Friday
June 19
After breakfast we departed for Monte Alban, the centre of the Zapotec civilization.

On arrival we visited tomb No7 which was discovered intact and the items of which I saw the previous day at the museum. We then climbed in tomb 104 before climbing the Northern temple and its sunken court. We progressed passed System IV and 'the dances' before visiting the observatory (building J) which was aligned for the constellation Usa Major, before climbing the southern temple. We then progressed passed the palace (the only inhabited building on the site) on to the ball court. On leaving we had time in the small site museum and bookstore.

We continued on for lunch at a local town where I had the local specialty barbecued goat tortillas. We progressed through the market sampling fruits, goat cheese and a drink made of coco and corn which was very nice. Gabriel and Luke brought 4 litres of Mezcal for 200Pecos. That stuff is rocket fuel and the quality varies with age among other things. That evening we had dinner on a roof top restaurant overlooking the museum plaza. Some had stone soup where the hot stones are used to heat the soup. I had somewhat tame but excellent option of burrittos.
Saturday
June 20
Today we had some obligatory inclusions to get out of the way before visiting another site.

We started off by visiting the oldest tree in the Americas. The Tule tree is some 2000 year old and very big. After this we visited a family/community group who made rugs and woolen products made the traditional way. We then visited a Mezcal factory where they explained how the drink is made. Again another opportunity to shop for those interested.

The tour continued on to Mitla. The burial place of the Mixotec nobles and royals. The place featured two underground tombs, one of which we descended into and a palace with various chambers.

From there we had a five hour drive to Tehuantepec. The roads were narrow and twisting around the hills. Despite this, motorists took mad chances overtaking on blind bends. Most towns had speed bumps which gave more opportunity to overtake as the lead vehicle slowed down for the obstacle. We even had multiple overtaking at the same time. There are no trains in Central America and the narrow hilly roads are clogged with heavy trucks that have to travel so slowly for the conditions - and thus make an obstacle of other motorists. They don't pull over even when the opportunity arises. Arriving in Tehuantepec near the Pacific coast, it was very hot and humid with tropical bird calls and tropical fruit on the trees. We weren't alone in the hotel as a couple of hundred police were presumably passing through too.
Sunday
June 21
Departing Tehuantepec for the state of Chiapas, we had another 4 hour drive before arriving for lunch at the Sumidero Canyon National Park. We took a motor boat about 32km up as far as the Chicoasen hydro damn, on route passing the highest cliff (about 800 meters tall plus a further 200 meters deep) and crocodiles sunning themselves on rocks, spider monkeys and various birds, herons, pelicans and shags. On our return we struck a thunder storm. At first we attempted to shelter from the rain, but eventually had to use a tarpaulin for shelter as we raced back to port.

We proceeded on up to San Christobal where the narrow, cobblestone streets made parking fun. The hotel was the best yet with great garden, nice rooms and fantastic location. The town was awesome. Stylish restaurants and shops up the pedestrian street, great slow paced, safe and friendly town with a much nicer temperature and humidity due to its altitude.
Monday
June 22
Today itinerary included visiting two indigenous communities. The first (San Juan Chamula) was having their annual festival with parades, markets and fireworks. The church was crowded and smoky. Outside fireworks seemed to feature prominently and on one occasion when a large banger failed to explode, the fellow holding it decided it would be a good thing to take it inside the crowded church. I was waiting for the explosion but luckily it didn't happen. We were not to take photos, but I think we all did. :-)

The next community showed us the traditional way that they still lived, making tortillas by hand and weaving.

We continued on back to San Cristobal for free time in the town.
Tuesday
June 23
We said goodbye to San Cristobal for another long windy drive towards our final destination of the day, Palenque.

On route we had two stops. The first was the water falls at Agua Azal which a shallow terraces of river featuring the bluest water. The police shadowed us to the site ensuring no problems occurred and the army was present whilst we were there. The indigenous Zapitistos had been targeting tourists, so security was a concern in this area. The site was crammed with souvenir and food stalls all vying for attention.

Continuing on we arrived at the second falls, Misol Ha ('Ha' being the Mayan word for water). This was a taller waterfall where we were able to walk behind the falls and explore a cave featuring another waterfall and some bats. There was only one shop here and they did a roaring trade on icecreams.

From here we pushed on to our 'executive class' hotel in Palenque. We were definitely in the tropical lowlands now as it was very hot and very humid, and we just got settled in before another rain storm hit.
Wednesday
June 24
Today (what would have been Dad's birthday) we set off for the ruins of Palenque. We first passed temple 12 (Temple of the skull) and climbed temple 13 to see the tomb of the Red Queen. We were not allowed to view Pakal's tomb in the temple of inscriptions, but we had seen the replica in the museum back in Mexico City. We had a good look at the Palace before crossing the foot bridge to the temples of the cross group, built by Pakal's son Chuckmal. There we climbed the Temple of the Cross which featured some famous carvings and Temple of the Foliated Cross and Temple of the Sun. From here we carried on to the ball court before we were given some free time to explore. Some of us carried on through the North group, the jungle waterfalls and temple of the bats.

Next we elected to do the optional jungle tour. Our guide took us outside the main area, showing us various trees and unexcavated Mayan buildings. There were stones from these buildings scattered around and some had visible signs of carvings. We climbed some of these buildings and one discovered in 1999 will be excivated in 2016. There were tombs and still functioning water ways. We also managed to see some monkeys high up in the trees.

We returned to the hotel around 2pm. I was wet with sweat having done all this exercise in the middle of the day, in the tropical heat around the 30s. I showered and changed before setting out into the town to explore and buy some lunch. I found a dairy and brought some food just as the rains hit. I sheltered in my clean clothes for an hour or so, before they too became wet!!!! The rainy season is a frustrating time to travel as its such a challenge to stay dry and get things done.
Thursday
June 25
Leaving Palenque with a five hour drive to Campeche. On route we stopped off at an almost empty beach resort. The prices for their food and drinks may have given an indication to the place's popularity. Back on the bus, our tour guide took the opportunity over the bus mic. to publically dress down one of our tour members in the most unprofessional manner. The accusations were clearly made up and the treats to remove him from the tour were very surreal.

Continuing on we arrived at the Fort of San Miguel, which was built by the Spanish to defend Campeche against Pirates. Today it hosts a pre-columbian museum. It rained - common theme these days. From here it was a short hop to our hotel in the town.

Campeche is an up market, tourist friendly town appointed with plenty of restaurants and shops to tempt us. There is a video that runs at 8pm showing the history of the town, but unfortunately due to the rain, this was canceled. Ian, Anne, Pat and myself found a chocolateria and had a club sandwich with a chocolate coffee drink. They made the chocolate with a mortar and pestle. We met up with an Australian couple who had been cycling through the US and Mexico. Unfortunately the hotel room was the dirtiest I had found ever in my travels with clods of dust on the walls making the air conditioning impossible (and only cold water shower).
Friday
June 26
We set off for the 2.5 hour drive to Uxmal. We entered via the Pyramid of the Magician and carried on through to the Nunnery, ball court, Great Pyramid, Doves court, Phally, Pyramid of the old lady (Witch) and finally the Governors Palace with its two headed jaguar throne and house of the turtles. The House of the Witch is not normally open to the public so this was a rare opportunity to take a look... although as we couldn't climb it :-).

We pushed on to Merida arriving at 4pm for a very late lunch. Naturally it rained both too and from lunch. The itinerary stated the afternoon was free in Merida and the museum was a recommended attraction. We ended lunch at 5:30 and the museum closed at 5pm. Well at least the chicken I had for lunch was good. That evening Ian, Anne, Pat and myself hunted coffees and icecreams before watching a reenactment of the Mayan ball game pok-ta-pok.
Saturday
June 27
An early departure for Chichen Itza with a packed breakfast. We were a bit early but were entertained by the ants who were marching leaves around.

We were not allowed to climb anything, which was a shame as we would have loved to climb the temple of the warriors. We covered the whole site including the largest ball court in mesoamerica, temple of the jaguar, platform of the skulls (Tzompantli), platform of the jaguar and eagles, Sacred Cenote, temple of the warriors, temple of the table, the group of the thousand columns, Temple of Venus, the Observatory, Nunnery and Church. The Cenotes are sacred water holes where human sacrifices for made. These sink holes actually date back to the extinction event of the Dinosaurs and circle where the meteorite struck earth.

There were many many stalls there making it more tacky and touristy in comparison to the other sites (okay I got a chess set and some t-shirts). With less for us to see and do, no jungles and nothing to climb, Chichen Itza has to be the least satisfying site we visited. This being said, I would have been a lot more disappointed if I didn't see it!

From here we left for Playa del Carmen on the coast. Playa del Carmen is a crowded resort town in much the same vein as Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol. It must have been easily 30 degrees and humid, so I joined the others at the pool for some hours. Ten of the sixteen on our group were ending their tours at Playa along with our driver, so that evening we had a goodbye dinner. The food was good, but pricey. Our guide Gabriel and Luke went clubbing telling me to return to the hotel. There had been notable favouritism.
Sunday
June 28
After breakfast I set out for more exploration photographing the sights. The main street has shops and restaurants, one after the other for maybe a mile. Nothing was planned for today and I quickly found I had run out of things to do.

That evening we had a welcome dinner for the eight new people joining the tour. Our little group of four (Ian, Anne, Pat and myself) found somewhere else to have dinner and rocked into some 2-for-1 Margaritas and Pina coladas.
Monday
June 29
Another day, another van ride. Our new group formed up, was given a packed breakfast and headed off to Tulum. Transportation for this half of the trip was now local taxi vans and we had no tour driver. Tulum had a population of mosquitos hungry for breakfast and unfortunately we were it! The site was small but pretty, with the cliff top Mayan temple (El Castillo) looking as good as it does on the postcards. The sea birds and iguanas weren't the only wild life we saw as I got to see a thin green snake. There are few buildings at Tulum but the House of the Frescos was one I wanted to see. It was possibly the most interesting building on site.

We carried on to the port where we were to leave Mexico for Belize. The forms and exit procedure were rather confusing and our tour guide promptly disappeared. We had lunch and awaited our boat for San Pedro where we would enter Belize. It was a 2 hour boat ride and on arrival our guide was caught attempted to smuggle his Mezcal through customs. He had repackaged it in a long container which attracted attention. Again, this is our tour guide!

We continued on to the island of Caye Caulker were the taxis are golf carts and the road kill is only ever crab! Caye Caulker is a laid back island - very Jamaca man! There are three dirt roads at the thickest point and coconut, fruits and sea food are the main food. Dinner tonight was at Rosies, a restaurant we had had recommended to us by some other tourists. I had lobster US$15!
Tuesday
June 30
Breakfast was budgeted at US$10 at the Amor breakfast cafe, so I managed a BLT and coffee. From there we went snorkeling out near the reef. There were three parts to it. (1) in four meters of water to get used to the equipment and explore the reef. I had to get out because of my lack of control in the water. (2) Shark alley, a shallow area featuring sharks and string rays. For this we stayed near the boat and I held on to a line. They kept the engines ticking over to get the shark's attention and I drifted into the engines a few times before getting out. (3) Exploring the reef. I sat that one out. Despite having a flashy underwater camera I was too useless to use it, so I left it on the boat for safety. Well at least I tried.

Back on Terra Firma we explored the island finding the place where a hurricane had split the island in two. Some enterprising locals set up a restaurant there which was a hoot. Lunch was Lobster burgers and a couple of Belinkin beers! This polished off I did some shopping on the main street. That night we had dinner - full lobster, two side dishes, 3 rum drinks and desert for US$12.50. That was my third lobster meal in a row! Apart from my sunburn and lack of skills in the water, it was not a bad day.
Wednesday
July 1st
This morning breakfast was at 6am. Bags were supposed to be out and but there were no porters to take them to the taxis, so I played bellhop gathering the bags from the upper floors. Again who was organising this? We made our way to the port and took the ferry to the mainland where we met our transfers to San Ignacio. The ride was very uncomfortable, but we got there. We arrived in San Ignacio with three hours to kill before our rooms would be available, so we headed off to the ruins of Cahal Pech. These were off the tourist track, so we largely had the place to ourselves and could go at our own pace. We returned to our hotel and were given our rooms (huts). I must have been lucky as my room wasn't too bad, but others had little privacy. We had a roster that couldn't tell the time and numerous birds calling. That night we had another group dinner (knowhere else to go). Dissatisfaction with the tour from our new people were openly being voiced.
Thursday
July 2nd
We departed our hotel at San Ignacio in a van and a ute. Just before leaving Belize we took a crank ferry across a small river and carried on to the ruins of Xunantunich. We had a very good guide covered the site and museum well. We carried on through the Guatemalan boarder where we met our transfers for Tikal. Finally, the first time on this tour we had two vans, allowing us good legroom and transportation in airconditioned comfort.

We arrived in Tikal where we promptly set out to explore the site. Sarah and I headed off on a three hour trek covering Temple 6, palace at group G where we saw monkeys and birds, the Grand Plaza with Temples 1 and 2 (we climbed temple 2), Temple 3 and finally climbing Temple 4. We returned before 7pm when we were supposed to have a group meeting although our guide didn't show so we had dinner instead. That night I had a bat at my window and a giant toad at my door (and of course mosquitos inside). The joys of staying in a jungle hut.
Friday
July 3rd
We started the day with the 4am sunrise tour. We walked to Temple 4 to watch the sunrise over the forest with the temples poking through the tree line. We carried on to the observatory, plaza of the seven temples and temple 5, before our four hour tour ended at the grand plaza. We saw howler monkeys playing with a Spider monkey along with Tucans (far away), a wood pecker and a grey fox. I visited the museum and did some shopping (I got another chess set) before we had to leave.

We pushed on to what we expected to be Flores, however a last minute change in hotels saw us at a resort hotel (Villa Maya) out in the middle of nowhere. I was running out of money having not seen a Guatemalan ATM, so I could only afford a fruit salad and fruit drink for lunch. We finally set off for Flores. We stopped on the mainland and I ducked away to find an ATM. Finally stocked up with money, we were then shepherded on to a boat for a nature tour (not on our itinerary, but now with three different tours on the same trip we had mixed expectations). We floated around looking at birds and made landfall where we climbed a hill for a photo opportunity of Flores from a distance. We returned to the boat and circled the island, so we could see what we had missed out on before being dropped off at a restaurant. I was so hungry I had two mains and two drinks. The food was great and the Mojito was a specialty of the restaurant and was very refreshing. We never got to actually see Flores despite the itinerary, but we are told it is a nice place. That night I returned to my room to find a large black scorpion.
Saturday
July 4
Another early departure meaning a packed breakfast. This time for the airport. Somehow I managed to obtain multiple leftovers.. clearly I need fattening up! We flew to Antigua where we got in a cramped old bus with our luggage. My legs couldn't fit so I left them in the isle.

Antigua has cobbled streets and that is the first impression that hits you - well in this bus it did! We unloaded into our hotel where our rooms weren't ready, so we stored our luggage and set out for an orientation walk. We saw and heard numerous chicken buses (autobus con pollo) with their colourful paint jobs, chrome body work, lights and horns both in Antigua and Guatemala City. People pealed off from the walking tour to do their own thing resulting in cat and mouse avoidance with the tour guide. That evening we were offered another dinner opportunity, to which the group declined. We all headed off to these restaurants and had an awkward encounter with the guide who pretended not to see us. We dined at Freda's restaurant which was one of our guide's recommendations which was quite good.
Sunday
July 5
The hotel was low budget appeared to have been a backpackers with small rooms, laundry and no restaurant. The windows opened into the foyer, so no privacy as people walked by and any bathroom smells or noises would be shared with hotel guests. For breakfast we needed a slip from reception to take to another hotel. There was considerable dissatisfaction with this hotel, one of our tour, Elise left to book her own hotel. In general at this stage there was considerable dissatisfaction with the tour company and guide. Despite this the group all got on well.

Antigua (Like Guatemala City) is in the highlands and so the temperature and humidity is much more bearable. Some from the tour set out to climb a volcano, but I set my sights a little lower with shopping. I found a market that has to rival the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. If daylight finds its way in they are clearly under stocked! I also discovered some icecream parlours and had banana split. Shoe shine boys tormented me despite my wearing canvas sneakers. I struggled to get money from the local ATMs. There was a limit of US$100, but with dozens of attempts using different combinations of accounts they continually refused to dispense funds. I had lunch at another recommended restaurant Casa Real and had Suban-Iq. It was very good.

Because Vodefone doesn't work in Central America I had asked our guide Gabriel, to confirm my transfers. He wasn't able to. That evening we had our farewell dinner and our guides expectation for tips were dashed. Most people on the tour were dissatisfied with the organisation, transportation and accommodation on the second half of the trip.
Monday
July 6
According to our itinerary our tour was to end after breakfast. Our tour guide had been the first to leave, at 4am, and he had done so without paying the breakfast bill. His final indignity. Some people had been reimbursed for inclusions that had not occurred. I only found this out after he had left.

Ian, Anne and myself had breakfast and they headed off to the airport. I managed to confirm my transfer for 5pm, so I had the whole day to kill and I had no room in my luggage for more shopping. As I sat in the hotel foyer drinking free coffee at 11am waiting for 5pm, it seemed that I was the last left. I set out on short missions to attempt the ATM or bank.. neither with any luck. I did catch Elise in the plaza briefly at 2pm. She was clearly enjoying her new accommodation.

My transfer arrived and we headed off to Guatemala City. As I was dropped off, I was handed an envelope. Adventure world travels are very very good! The driver knew everything about what I needed to know, but like an easter egg hunt, he only imparted information like clues when I needed it. The hotel Barcelo was five star plus. A far cry from the last few weeks with Peregrine where hot water and privacy was a luxury.
Tuesday
July 7
Breakfast was at 6am and I checked out of the Barcelo leaving my suitcase in storage. I was only going to be away one night and so didn't seem sensible to take everything with me. My new tour was just three of us plus the guide/driver. We headed off to Honduras to see the famous ruins of Copan. We passed through the boarder where I had my passport stamped with a special Copan stamp and carried on to the site. I was given an english speaking guide who was very good. We saw Alter Q, the hieroglyphic staircase, dancing jaguar, ball court and the various stellas (last year I had seen the copies of Stella A and Stella H at the British museum). Many of the originals are in the museum. The other two weren't interested so they were taken to the hotel whilst I stayed on to view the museum (US$7) and was picked up later. This is how touring should be .. flexible enough for the individual. I was given a welcome drink on arrival in the hotel and given my room. Wow.. another 5 star plus hotel. I set out exploring the town of Copan and found a restaurant where I had a huge chicken burrito and beer for US$8.
Wednesday
July 8
This morning breakfast was at 6:30am and we departed for Quirigua in Guatemala. Leaving Honduras was no problem, they just waved us through! On route we struck trouble. Guatemalan teachers were striking and had organised to block the roads. We took some detours and the van performed some serious off-road driving. We made it to Quirigua where our guide took us around before giving me time to explore. We headed back towards Guatemala City to find the road block was clearing. We stopped for lunch at a road side restaurant and heard from another bus of tourists that they had been caught in it for 5 hours! I checked back in at the Barcelo for my final night in Guatemala.
Thursday
July 9
After breakfast I walked to the Museum of Anthropology and spent an hour or so viewing the exhibits. That being done I walked the town looking for the noted landmarks. The biggest challengers were crossing the road, also using the footpaths as these clearly aren't maintained or designed by a single group. I had lunch at a restaurant so I could souvenir the Gallo beer bottle lable.

Again I found myself in the foyer of the hotel awaiting my 5pm airport transfer. I started getting my bags ready at 4pm when the Clark tours (adventure world) transfer guy recognised me and we set off early. He called his boss who wanted to check how I enjoyed the tour. Seriously these guys know good service!
Friday
July 10
I landed in LA to again find my phone not working! Also, the pay phones insisted the phone number I had to call for my free transfer was invalid. Luckily I found a bus driver who called them on my behalf. The hotel was near the airport and cheap. That was the criteria of selection.. it wasn't too bad and the Continental breakfast was huge!

Luckily the ATMs worked with my card, and I took a limo service for $US110 to the California Science Center to see the Space shuttle Endeavour (one of only three space worthy shuttles to be retired), ASTP Apollo 18 module (almost 40 years to the day of the mission), Gemini 11 and Mercury Redstone 2. They had models of Viking, Mariner, Pioneer and other unmanned craft as well. They also had one of the two prototypes of the F20 Tigershark on display. Whilst I was there I also checked out the Natural History Museum to see their displays of the numerous Dinosaurs.

On my return I disappointed my taste buds at Taco Bell. I then went looking for a shopping mall to occupy my time and have coffee. Unfortunately there are no shopping malls in walking distance of the airport/hotel, so I once again found myself in the foyer killing time until transfer. I was entertained by a pair of Squirrels.

I finally left LA and headed home to a -5 degree Christchurch winters morning.
In summary: The holiday was a success having achieved all I had set out to do on this trip and the fellow travelers were a great bunch. My main issues were with my phone not working in this part of the world and my visa card not being able to draw funds from ATMs causing unnecessary stress and making things a challenge.

From the tour perspective, the first half of the Peregrine tour wasn't too bad, as we achieved our itinerary with reasonable standards. For the last 9 days of the tour Peregrine/Intrepid/Exodus/Gekko had mixed people from an 18-35 adventure tour with those on a nature tour along with 6 from the ancient civilizations tour. Each group having expectations and inclusions on their itineraries meaning we all had certain compromises. The quality of the hotels and transportation varied from great to shocking. The lack of professionalism of the tour guide meant he didn't earn a tip from many of the tour members in his care.

The Adventure World Travels tour in stark contrast, was a five star experience right through, ending my trip on a positive note.

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