Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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Lake Atitlan is one of Guatemala’s top attractions, but one that’s fairly close to the capital, and the touristy La Antigua Guatemala.

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The tour includes transport to the lake, then fast boat between several towns. I’d recommend not to get the guide, as there’s practically no difference, and the tour operator may not realize you didn’t opt for the guide anyway.

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The lake is surrounded by several volcanoes and it’s all in all quite decent.

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Copan, Honduras

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From La Antigua Guatemala, I booked a a two-day trip to Honduras because I had the time.

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Central America, at least the parts I’ve been to, felt practically like Chiapas in Mexico. The site itself wasn’t that special, although they do have impressive statues that are with an elaborate back.

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The less visited part of the site was to me a more worthwhile visit. It was a bit of a walk (and it appeared that they didn’t get even 10 visitors per day), but it’s the first one I’ve been to that’s more residential than ceremonial.

Tikal, Guatemala

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Tikal is Guatemala’s most famous archaeological complex, and a major Mayan city-state back in the day.

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The state capital Flores is a small island that’s quite nice within the boundaries, but quite horrible outside. It’s not actually close to any sites but it’s possible to do a day trip.

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The Tikal pyramids are one of a kind, even though I wouldn’t necessarily count the site as one of my favourites.

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Xunantunich, Belize

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Xunantunich is a small site near the Guatemalan border, and is easily accessible from the island city of Flores by bus. Currency wasn’t an issue, as there were many, many people waiting for tourists there. It felt good going back to one of Her Most Gracious Majesty’s realms, although their English was less than stellar.

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The site wasn’t really anything special, neither was the town. One doesn’t really experience much of Belize either, as the residents are usually either Spanish speakers or immigrants from Guatemala anyway.

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Her Majesty’s ancient palace was preserved with fundings from the European Union. The most interesting thing about it was actually the boat for cars to pass the river. It didn’t have an engine or anything, but cables and it’s entirely manuel.

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There are more remarkable ruins, but a bit farther from the border and thus unsuitable for a day trip.

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Yaxha, Guatemala

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Yaxha is another main Maya site, other than Tikal, near the Guatemala city Flores.

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It’s nicer than Tikal, albeit not as unique.

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It’s peaceful, with fewer people, and it’s still rather large.

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The pyramids were preserved marvellously as well.

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The tour guides promised to take us to a spot to watch the sunset, and in the end actually took bribe to let people into a restricted area.

Guatemala City

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Guatemala City is a populous city in proper Central America, and the capital of Guatemala, the place with many trees, heartland of the Maya Empire.

Most tourists skip the capital, as it has a terrifying reputation in terms of violence and general crimes, and I suppose because there aren’t that many attractions.

I got to admit, the city wasn’t very nice. Guatemala in general has horrid roads, for example. But the historical, colonial buildings were still nice. And nothing happened to me.

Restaurants closed early though so I had to spend the evening without eating or drinking anything.

Zacatecas, Mexico

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Zacatecas is the capital of a state located in the desert in northern Mexico. It’s known for its colonial buildings.

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As well as the museum that contains the largest collection of Mexican folk art in the world, most notably its more than substantial masks collection.

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The exterior of the museum. 

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It’s not a particularly sizable city but it’s good that it’s walkable. I wish I had spent more time there though, as there were several other museums to visit.

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I got there before 6am and the sun was already up, but everything was closed, so I didn’t get to go into anything until like 10am.

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Another attraction is the abandoned mine El Eden. Cool place to be, in more than one sense of the world. Do keep in mind though – if you don’t want to leave at the other exit, do not get on the train!

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The Holy Father seemingly endorsed this bus company.

Travel Warning: Israel

I have been to many crime-ridden places, many disaster-prone areas, and plenty of destinations that were simply not worth visiting. I was a victim of crimes, experienced natural disasters, and suffered through many sites. Never had I ever thought of advising people, categorically, against visiting a certain reason for any reason.

But it is with a heavy heart that I feel the moral obligation to publish a travel warning against Israel (and unfortunately, by extension to Palestine), for whatever reason, especially if you are only there on a transit. You may be OK if you are both white and a practising Jew, but even so, never ever get on a flight operated by an Israeli carrier.

The reason? They do not see a material difference between a tourist and a terrorist. At least not at Ben Gurion airport, or any flights flying into it, operated by Israeli carriers. They cannot do pre-boarding security checks in foreign countries, and so the only way they can do it is by pretending to be airline staff. This is why you will face additional screening only if you fly with an Israeli carrier. Never fly with an Israeli carrier.

Total time spent passing through Israeli security: 4.5 hours

Total time spent passing through around 55 countries’ security, over the gazillion trips in the past 3 decades: Possible an hour?

So what happened?

From Cairo, I flew through Cyprus with Arkia, an Israeli airline. Around an hour before the flight, Israeli authority started doing pre-boarding screening (only done when you are flying with an Israeli carrier, so never fly with one ever, for any reason) – that is after going through Cyprion security. Remember Cyprus is already a European Union member state, not some third-world country with no real airport security. And of course I already passed security (checked twice, in fact) in Cairo, although they were really lax – I managed to carry a full bottle of water onboard.

I was questioned for an hour here! I basically had to tell them my life story and the history of Hong Kong, but it was fine. They weren’t happy with the fact that I had two passports (dual nationals surely aren’t that rare? And I wasn’t hiding my other passport), and most of all, the fact that I went to Egypt. They seemed puzzled by the fact that any genuine tourist would visit Egypt, because obviously that country does not literally have 5000 years of history with structures still intact, world renowned pyramids, temples, statues with insanely famous kings and queens, with a strong civilization that in reality started European civilization, on top of at least four other remarkable cultures building up the country in the past millennia, and massive pop culture influence from “Dark Horse” to practically Elizabeth Tyler’s career. And they even asked why I went now, with the potential instability (presumably after Trump’s announcement), as if I only booked everything 10 days prior to departure. I live in Mexico for heaven’s sake. What were they afraid of? Extremist Catholics radicalized by His Holiness The Pope to go on a military invasion of The Holy Land? I’d be around a thousand years too late for that.

After looking over my contacts, my messages, my Facebook profile, they still weren’t satisfied. I was subjected to a body search, and had to in fact drop my trousers for that.

Worse still, after scanning literally everything I had in my side bag, my pockets, as well as my jewelleries, they would not allow me to carry a bag. And in doing so, they unnecessarily broke the lock of my luggage to put it in there. Unnecessary because they already had the key (they scanned everything in my wallet other than the bank notes – I guess the official ID issued by the Mexican government could potentially be an explosive, huh?), or they could have asked me for the key, or they could have asked me to open it. But no, they broke the lock and threw it away.

In addition to all of these, since they took so long questioning me, somewhat who in no way whatsoever has the profile of a terrorist, the flight was held up, and I was escorted to the aeroplane, obviously in the full view of everyone.

When I got to Israel, the immigration officer, despite seeing the special sticker on my passports demonstrating the fact that I had already been questioned, threw some of the questions I had already answered while reviewing my passport. But at least this time it did not take too long.

When I left Israel (for the first time, just to pop over to Jordan), I thought it would be OK since I’d be leaving the country, and surely Israel does not have the responsibility to protect the entire world. Boy was I wrong.

Before even getting to the airline desk, I had to queue for another questioning process, and this time it took around half an hour. She asked many of the questions already asked, and didn’t seem to really be listening, as she asked certain questions over and over again, without even looking at me or my documents. I even gave her my staff ID.

Yet, the most frustrating things were with her blatant lies!

“Why did you fly via Cyprus from Egypt to Israel?”

“Because they weren’t direct flights.”

“I work at the airport, I know it’s possible. So why did you not get a direct flight?”

NO IT’S JUST NOT! There are no direct flights between Egypt and Israel, or at least during that period of time, there weren’t. How was I supposed to answer a question based on a false premise?

“Why didn’t you take the bus?”

Well – first of all, why would I? Is it even normal for international travellers who have a little bit of money to take a bus across countries, between cities that aren’t next to each other?

“Well, it would be longer.”

“How would it be longer? You had a connecting flight, it would not take more time than that!”

WRONG WRONG WRONG! The flight was less than an hour, with a stopover of around 2 hours. All together, that’s 7 hours including all waiting times and travel times to where I was staying.

The bus? One would need to take at least 2 buses, at least 1 taxi, assuming one is living near the bus stations, and it would still take at least half a day, not counting the very likely long delays!

*cue DonaldTrumpWrong.gif*

So, how was I supposed to answer questions that were asked either out of sheer ignorance or malice to “test” me for my response?

“Why do you have two passports?”

“Hong Kong was British before 1997, and Chinese after that.”

“Why did you get the British passport? I’ve seen people from Hong Kong and they don’t carry that?”

WHY THE HELL NOT??

Do I really need to explain the obvious benefits to having more than one passport? The added visa-free entries? The extra consular protection? An additional ID? Or just because I want to? As a very frequent traveller, as they could clearly see and had pointed out, was it really out of the ordinary that I would apply for an extra passport when I could??

But that wasn’t even it…Since I was given a yellow sticker, I was sent to the troubled line, and that was another 1.5 hours to pass…

Oh yes, they don’t seem to use the 1-6 number system any more.

You may have heard that they give you a number to indicate your threat level, with 6 being the highest. But I saw people with 7 and 8, so that’s certainly no longer the case. The only thing in common among people who got sent to the difficult line was that our stickers were all yellow whilst the others were white.

The whole experience was in fact so traumatizing and irritating that I could not sleep the night in Amman before returning to Israel, as I simply couldn’t be psychologically prepared to be treated like a terrorist again.

When I left Israel for the second and final time, the questioning was shorter – although the ignorance was still there, nonetheless. I was asked why I used the Hong Kong passport, and I was like, well…I’m from Hong Kong? He also did not seem to have any understanding at all of the difference between a passport from Hong Kong, and one from China proper. Besides kept calling my Hong Kong passport the “Chinese” passport, he insisted that I had good visa-free entries into the Middle East because China is in good terms with Middle Eastern countries.

That’s simply not true. The real Chinese passport needs a visa to enter practically any of those countries! If the Hong Kong passport gets good treatment because of China, then why doesn’t the Chinese passport get the same treatment?

Even though the questioning was not as bad, I was still sent to the difficult line, and this time it took “only” an hour because they had to “fast-track” us for we were all going to miss our flight – a French woman even missed her first flight already, and would miss her second, newly purchased flight if they didn’t hurry up.

This time around there were plenty of disgruntled travellers, and we all started talking. The Israelis of course would not tell us why we were sent there, nor did they even admit to the fact that the line was for additional screening. It’s definitely true that it is, however – an African-American tourist went to another line with her white friends, and after passing through that line quickly, was sent to this line as she’s the only one with a yellow sticker.

Speaking of her, she told me about this conversation:

“Where are you from?”

“Colorado.”

“How about before that?”

She mentioned a state, but I don’t remember which one.

“Where were your people from?”

Woah, racists. Literally racists. So black people cannot really be from the United States? I wonder if they ever ask white Americans that.

At that point, we really didn’t care any more. We openly discussed the absurdities of many of their questions in front of the security officers.

I will never ever go back ever if they pay me. Who would want to visit a country that is clearly hostile to tourists? Many of its citizens seemed to dislike tourists too, as I had people being an absolute jerk to me because I spoke to them in English. Surely they don’t expect someone who’s visiting only for four days to learn an entirely new language?

And before you say “oh but this is keep us all safe”, let me remind you a few things.

In all of human history, to date –

the number of terrorists from or was a resident of Hong Kong: 0

the number of terrorists from or was a resident of Mexico: 0

the number of terrorists educated at Oxford University or equivalent: 0

the number of Han Chinese terrorists: 0

the number of openly gay terrorists: 0

the number of terrorists who had been an educator: 0

the Muslim population in Mexico: <0.01%

the Muslim population in Hong Kong: 4.1% (at least half of them are Indonesian servants, by the way)

So, how exactly did I fit the profile of a potential terrorist? Troubling people like me is not good for anyone. Not protecting other people as they’d lose time and waste resources that could otherwise be used to screen actual potential terrorists. If they are indeed doing racial profiling, which many claim they are, at least do it right! I even used the seatbelt on the taxi for crying out loud.

They will never change as they aren’t even smart enough to realize the US has black people or that there is literally no terrorism in Hong Kong, so I can only warn you of the danger of travelling to Israel. Maybe it’d be better travelling by land, maybe not. I can’t tell. Maybe you won’t be flagged as a suspect. Maybe you will actually get some sex out of a strip search like they do in porn and maybe you will like it. Who knows? I would strongly advise you against making any plans at all travelling to Israel, and it’d be worse when you’re on a transit, as apparently you’d still need to go through all of that unless you are an Israeli citizen.

I cannot emphasize this more: never travel to Israel, unless you wish to be taken as a terrorist.

 

The entries on my travels to Israel will come up in around a year due to the long queue of scheduled publications.