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Guatemala

sunny 29 °C

Guatemala
Sunday 3rd April - Tikal
Today we said goodbye to Belize, leaving the hotel early we drove for about 1/2 hr to
the border check point and painlessly (apart from the $20 dollar exit fee!) crossed into Guatemala, country No.3
Once over the border we stopped for a 3hr breakfast stop !
Well it was only about an hour but the painful service made you feel it was an eternity.
We then continued on to Tikal where we would be camping and also to visit the Mayan Ruins.
On arrival we all got tents except for Irene and I who, as we were the only couple,
Were taken to stone pavilion thingy, where our 3 man humongous tent was already erected inside (undercover) the pagoda and
with 3 mattress's inside ! luxury camping - "Clamping" or what !
Our camp was actually in the National Park, so after dumping our rucksacks we set off to the site.
The Tikal site is massive, spread over 16Km sq. with over 400 structures and even more amazing is that only 10% has been excavated.
We walked through the jungle on forest trails for about 20mins to reach the first pyramid, Then on to Temple V and so on etc.,
eventually reaching the famous Plaza with Temples II and the famous Jaguar Temple I.
The site was virtually empty with only a handful of other tourists, so with the lack of people, plus the amount of wildlife we spotted and heard -
Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Parrots, Raccoons and lots of others etc. It really gave an atmospheric feeling to the place.
Climbing up the Temple was another challenge, Temple IV was the highest at 61m (geting towards 200ft),
But it wasn't the climbing of the stairs it was the size of the stairs, some coming up to your knees!
Plus the gradient of the staircases really made you work.
Having said this a few are now sadly closed - due to people in the past 2 years falling off and killing themselves !
It seems that every time someone dies, they close that particular one off, luckily there were still some left for us !
After about 5 hours trekking through jungle trails, each one ending with yet another impressive structure we returned to camp and
actually had a warm shower ! 5 star camping yet again.

Monday 4th April - Rio Dulce
Woke up about 4am by the sound of Howler Monkeys roaring in the trees around us,
It can be a bit unnerving if you've not heard it before, but it really adds to the jungle atmosphere,
Overall though we slept well in the heat, under the jungle canopy.
Another early start, we were up just after 5am and left camp by 7am as we had a long travel day south towards Flores
on route to Rio Dulce by late afternoon.
We stopped off at the same "breakfast place" as the day before,
But this time we decided to go off on our own to another local cafe opposite rather than endure the tortuous wait again,
both of us had better meals and watched their "Breakfast Tv" which was showing some horror movie involving a
deranged Scarecrow killing people with a pitchfork !
After all the early morning excitement we boarded our bus for a peaceful drive on to Rio Dulce.
On arrival we caught a water taxi for short 10min ride to our lake side rustic lodge.
The lodge had its own launch and we struck lucky again and ended up in a detached bamboo bungalow !
After a quick check in we decided to take a hike along the lakeside to Castillo San Felipe,
a fortress and castle built in 1652 to keep pirates from looting the villages in the region.
It was like a toy castle complete with turrets, cannons and small underground tunnels.
After clambering around in the small dark tunnels banging our heads on the ceiling, we caught a river taxi back to our lodge and chilled out on deck having our first Guatemalan Beer !

Tuesday 5th April - Rio Dulce
Woke up to a wonderful jungle dawn chorus in our Bamboo Bungalow followed by breakfast on the lakeside.
We then got a boat down Lago de Izabal to visit the Mangrove swamps and
watch the various array of birds that live along the lago and it's small islands.
We continued on to reach Livingston, a small town where the descendants of Africans brought to the New World as slaves live.
We strolled around the town and managed to meet a local who gave us some additional info and history of the place,
nice chap, quite amusing.
After some local street food, we boarded the boat back to Rio Dulce, on the way we stopped at some "Hot Springs"
albeit a hot pool near the side of the jetty !Some went in for a dip,
whilst we decided to walk up to a cave located in the cliff side and got a local lad with a few spare torches to give us a guided tour.
It was well worth the effort, our round trip was decent and we spotted some fossilised remains in the cave ceiling,
plus lots of stalls and calcite flows etc.
We decided to venture into the town itself at night and jumped aboard the hotel boat that takes it's workers back home at 5pm to the Rio port.
Rio Dulce was small town, which we had walked all around by early evening,
Although trying to get some authentic street food was proving very hard. It seemed that everywhere was either a Mexican Pizza takeaway or a
"Pollo Rapido" (the Mexican KFC !), so we ended up in a riverside bar having a Beer and a sandwich.
Then came the dilemma - did we wait here for another 2 hrs hoping to catch the hotel boat back,
if it would return for us or make our own way back ?
We decided to try and get a water taxi, but this was working out quite expensive and difficult to arrange,
when an American guy in the bar overhead us and offered to give us a lift in his dingy ! Well why not !
So Irene, me and "Brandon" set off in pitch blackness with me holding a flash light down the Rio Dulce !
suffice to say we made it back to the Hotel, thanked Brandon and retired to the safety of our hotel bar.

Wednesday 6th April - Antigua
We we left Rio Dulce early for a long travel day west to Antigua.
On the way we had to pass through the busy industrious capital of Guatemala City.
The traffic was terrible, but nobody blasted their horns - we found out why -
Apparently if you blast your horn, the other guy shows you his gun, (which people freely carry about) and
this sort of stops any frustration !
However, our journey came to a standstill in bad traffic and sadly we found out why -
somebody had just being killed by a car driver and he was laid out in the road as we passed by him.
Eventually we arrived in Antigua, the former colonial capital until 1776 when it transferred to Guatemala City following several earthquakes.
It is full of cobbled streets, Plaza's, Spanish architecture and is surrounded by 3 active volcanoes;
Agua, Fuego and Acatenango all at around 3,700m (12,000ft).
We checked into the hotel, then went out for a walk around the town, grabbed some street food and soaked up the atmosphere,
Although it was noticeably cooler here givens it's at an elevation of around 5,000ft, it still had a great feel about the place.

Thursday 7th April - Chichicastenango / Jan Jorge
Another day woken up by a wonderful dawn chorus and by 6am we were both up and about,
so we went for an early morning walk to Parque Central,
(the main square in Antigua) & found a couple of nice shops, one selling fresh bread and the other great Guatemalan Coffee.
So we had our breakfast sat by the water fountain, full of female statutes in the main square,
when we suddenly both noticed where the water was coming from -
it was spraying out of the women's breasts in the middle of the fountain ! (made a change from what's in the UK!).
After breakfast we left Antigua, albeit only for a couple of days, as we were going to have an overnight "homestay" with a
local Guatemalan family in San Jorge.
On the way we stopped at the famous Chichicastenango Market (try saying it!); "chi-chi-cas-ten-nan-go"
It has a famous market that everybody seems to visit.
Anyhow we arrived late morning to the usual ambush of local traders trying to sell you their wares,
once we'd dodged them we headed off down the small streets filled with stalls on each side,
We didn't really buy anything but soaked up the atmosphere and had a good photo shoot of the markets scenes & people.
Late afternoon we arrived in the main square of San Jorge where we would meet our local family.
A local guide introduced us to a middle aged lady called "Martha" who then took us to down the street to her house.
As we entered the house we met "Pedro" her husband who was a Builder and was building an extension to the house when we arrived,
which involved nailing some corrugated sheeting from one building to another !
(He had also built the original house 23yrs ago), luckily it was still standing.
Neither of them could speak fluent English, nor us any Spanish, so out came my phrase book and we started to have a "chat"
They had 6 children and 2 grandchildren, all of whom joined us for a supper of Vegetables and Tortillas,
which was sadly stretched to go round us all,
However, there were plenty of warm tortillas which we watched being made on their wood fired Aga.
After watching various bits of Spanish Soap operas and the start of a Godzilla movie, we had a short walk and retired to our beds.

Friday 8th April - Panajachel
We had a good nights sleep at our homestay, followed a breakfast of Scrambled Eggs & Tomato - Guatemalan style !
with very hot, freshly made tortillas. We said goodbye to Martha and Pedro and
walked up the street to meet the rest of the group and transferred to our hotel in Panajachel, briefly checked in,
Then went on a day-tour of the region via the lake on a private boat.
Panajachel is the biggest town around the lake and from here we first went across to San Juan,
A small village where we visited a local Mayan Art Gallery and then went to see a Textile Factory/shop,
both nice but geared towards Retail Therapy !
We then had a short stop over at San Pedro for a quick tour of the town before departing to Santiago Atitlan.
We found a good local restaurant, also in the LP guide where we had some nice tortillas for lunch,
before getting a local pick-up truck to take us to the "shamans House" this is where the current Mayan God is held for a year.
It then moves onto another location collected by the next priest who watches over it every day for the next year and so on.
When we arrived, we were very lucky as a local man was visiting the Shaman to be exorcised !,
which involved a ritual whereby the statue of the Mayan God in the room, had the cigar (which was in his mouth) lit as well as candles on the floor, the guy was then dressed with a sheet over his head, a cowboy hat on and some strange shoes !
It sounds a bit naff, but seeing it taken so seriously is very dramatic.
The ceremony then began, as we watched intently, his local priest chanted a message and
at the same time swung an incense burner, all surrounded in darkness except for the burning candles.
It was all very mystical and quiet eerie.
The shaman let one of us (me) take photos for the group and l managed to get some good shots of the ritual.
We then returned by our boat back to Panajachel for a relaxing night out on the town !

Saturday 9th April - Antigua
We had an early start in order to travel back to Antigua,
leaving Panajachel at 07.00am we drove around the tight & dangerous hairpin bends,
passing numerous vehicles that had either broken down or ones that couldn't get up the steep hills, (probably due to their clutches burning out) and
were then abandoned with their wheels chocked with stones.
Once back in Antigua, we went on a walking tour of the cobbled city visiting various Churches, Squares and Plazas,
down quaint little streets full of cafes and Boutique shops and then up to Cerro de la Cruz -
a cross on a hill overlooking the city with good views of the surrounding volcanos.
We continued around the town visiting the local street & food markets before returning to the hotel after about 4hrs of walking.
We went out for another walk and brought some local Cheese and Chilean Wine,
(first of the holiday) and then we sat in the hotel courtyard to enjoy them !

Sunday 10th April - Antigua (Pacaya Volcano)
A very early start; we were up at 5am in order to leave at 6am to climb the
Pacaya Volcano, one of the local active volcanos close Antigua.
We drove for about 1 hour to reach the base of the volcano, from here we started the climb,
although climbing from around 1,800m we soon reached the lava flow from the 2015 eruption.
Looking across the valley we got good views of the 3 largest volcanos that surround Antigua and one of them;
Fuego was giving out occasionally plumes of smoke and sulphur.
We continued and soon reached the point where we could go no further for safety reasons, which was about 2,200m (approx. 7,000ft).
Our guide then did the tourist thing and produced some Marshmallows from his day sack and proceeded to heat them over some lava stones,
within a few minutes we were all eating toasted Marshmallows in the early morning Sun.
We then descended back to the start point and got our bus back to Antigua, not really what we were hoping for,
but it was a good leg stretch and perfect walking conditions.
In the afternoon we spent the rest of our last day in Guatemala having a walk round the old town and ended up in the
Chocolate museum where I copped for buying Irene some handmade Guatemalan Mayan Chocolate !
Expensive but very nice, or so I was told !
In the evening we met out new tour leader that would take us on to Honduras in the morning and on to Copan.

Posted by Andy-Irene 17:38 Archived in Guatemala

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