Jungle Adventures

Trip Start Feb 17, 2006
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Trip End Aug 2006


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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Back from my jaunt into the wilds of Guatemala without being eaten by anything!!

At the beginning of April I headed up to the national park at Laguna Lachua, in Coban (sort of the Midlands of Guatemala). It was quite a long journey, comfortable coach for the first few hours, then changed to a minibus for 3 more hours. They really squashed us in, at least 4 to a 3 person seat, and they make little matching upholstered stools so someone can sit in the aisle too. That sounds more comfortable than it actually is... A couple of guys were stood (stooped) the whole journey by the door, and the bus helper boy hung on to the outside. The untarmaced road was actually more comfortable as bumping around got some blood back to your legs...
Once we got to the edge of the park it was a 4km walk through the forest to the camp. Quite warm but not a difficult walk, even with our backpacks. The station is very pretty, thatched wooden buildings leading down to a dock out into the lagoon. The more comfortable rooms were taken, so the 6 of us in the party (Barbara, Pable, Sharon, Pavel and Byron, plus me) shared a dormitory in the main building.
After dinner, cooked on the concrete wood-burning stove, we sat on the dock watching the stars, so odd to be able to see them all as there are no lights anywhere near.
The night came as a shock, it was really cold!! Hardly slept for shivering. Was expecting it to be sweltering, the day was very warm.

The next day (Weds 5 Apr), there wasn┤t enough room for all of us to go in the boat to collect aquatic insects in one of the streams, so Bryon, Pavel and I had to suffer a whole day of swimming in the beautiful round turquoise lagoon (avoiding the fish that bite if you stay still too long) and sunbathing.

Made up for the laziness the next day: two trips out to collect aquatic insects. The guide Paulino marched us at top speed through the jungle to certain sites on the river banks where the traps are set and nets used to catch the beasties. I┤m sure I helped enormously, stuffing wet leaves into zip lock bags and using tweezers to pick out various larvae and other bugs. Sadly they all die, plunged into alcohol for safe keeping, but it is for the greater good of scientific research...

The next day was even worse, well from an exhaution point of view, otherwise it was fascinating. We walked all day, fast, and it was very hot and humid. It is tiring just keeping up with the guide Paulino, never mind watching that you`re not treading on snakes, putting your hand on a tree or vine with two inch needle sharp spikes on it, and not losing the person in front. We ran out of water, and had no food. By the time we got bck to the camp in the late afternoon, no one even had the energy to speak (even Paulino was tired which made me feel better) and we slumped in the hammocks drinking as much cold water as possible.
By dinner time we were conscious enough to attempt a game of scrabble (in spanish with an english set, we didn┤t work out what to do with the "k`s"). I won, well the boys let me win I think, but still...

Next stop for Byron and me was the little city of Flores for a holiday. Had to wait ages for the cramped minibus back to the main road (2 hours), the next bus felt like luxury, only two people to a seat! It was another journey with as many forms of transport as hours taken. At SayaxchŔ we crossed the Rio de la Pasi˛n (its only about 20 meters wide) in a little boat, got in another minibus, this one emptier, luckily, because it started to rain heavily and there was room for our bags inside. By the time we got to Santa Elena it was a downpour. We sheltered for a while, but it didn┤t ease off, so we made a run for a tuktuk to take us across the bridge to Flores.

The island is tiny, it takes 15 mins to walk the whole way round. Pretty painted houses, and cobbled streets. Feels less touristy, more genuine than Antigua. After 4 day in the biology stations with very basic washing facilities, and sometimes having to pull up all the water needed from a well, the hot water shower in the hotel was bliss!

The next day we went early in the morning to Tikal, probably the most major Mayan site in Guatemala, though there are many not yet explored and uncovered. It is a huge site, and I don┤t remember many of the details, so I┤ll let you look at the pictures to see what it was like. The pyramids rise above the jungle, and after climbing little rickety wooden stairs to the top the views are amazing. Very excited to see a wild pizote (one of the animals I┤ve done enrichment with at the zoo), but he was forraging in the undergrowth and took no notice of us. Also saw howler and spider monkeys, again species we have at the zoo so interesting to see them in their natural habitat. Many of the paths round Tikal are pretty rough, so you have to watch out for snakes there too. There is a museum at the end with some cool pictures of the first explorations (late 1800`s or early 1900`s I think) of the site. At that time, the area was really remote (there┤s only been a proper road to Flores in the last 5 years or so), with no roads for hundreds of miles, and really dense jungle, so it must have been an incredible expedition, and such hard work starting to extract the pyramids from the hundreds of trees and vines smothering them. I think many have now been robbed of their precious contents, they still get the army in to protect new finds.

After a few days mooching about Flores drinking limonada con soda on little docks and other exhaustingly relaxing persuits we headed out to the Estaci˛n Biol˛gia Las Guacamayas (big colourful parrots) near Laguna Al Tigre. The station is more developed than Lachua, with comfortable guest lodges (which we didn┤t stay in), good showers and a well equipped kitchen. Sadly I didn┤t get much time there to see the area, other than a trip up to the mirador (lookout). Downhill from the camp is a river, then a few hundred meters of marshland, then rainforest as far as the eye can see. But the settlers (illegal, but the government doesn┤t remove them - they have no where to go) are gradually encroaching further and further, slashing and burning the forest to make way for the very profitable cattle ranches, so who knows how much longer it will all be there...
Unfortunately I got sick, and though very glad of the more sophisticated WCs, had to return to Flores the next day. So we didn┤t get a chance to join the jaguar hunt (for tagging, not killing) team. Maybe later in the summer we can go out with them.

Spent the rest of Easter week chilling out and recovering in Flores, finding great restaurants, drinking at little lakeside bars etc. Found a place doing free catamaran trips, when you bought a 6pack of Gallo beer. So managed that few times.
The celebrations for Semana Santa in Flores aren┤t as big as in Antigua, but there were a few parades. The processions sway slowly, carrying huge floats with religious scenes and saints, crushing and scattering the beautiful floral and powder carpets people spent all day in the hot sun laying on the streets.
Also went over to a little beach on the mainland, up to another mirador which was surrounded by humming birds, and to some limestone caves.

By the last day the weather was extremely hot, so it was nice to get back to the cool of Guatemala City. The overnight coach was very comfortable, though unfortunately the film was dubbed not subtitled, so I couldn┤t understand much. Though it was a Jim Carey film, so it wasn┤t that distressing.
Strange to be back at the zoo after a whole two weeks off, but quickly got back into it and have spent the last two weeks helping the keepers and planning the next round of enrichment activities for the animals, which commenced today (2nd May - time is flying!!). The bears got a box with honey covered pine cones (crushed immediately) and the Japanese monkies got rattles made from water bottles with stones inside.

Had a couple of weekends away too. Back to Antigua for a couple of nights, and then the May Bank Holiday weekend down to the South coast to the beach at Montericco. It is a beautiful place, lots of fun. Black sand, little hotels, and big private houses along the coast. The area in front of the main street is filthy and crouded, but either side the sand was clean and fairly empty. Didn┤t swim much as the waves were big. Got some dancing in (aided by the cheap happy hour rum and pinapples), visited the turtle sanctury (they rescue the eggs from the beach as people collect them to sell, grrrr, and release the hatchlings between around July and Feb, so maybe I┤ll get to see that before I leave) and did some lounging in hammocks and on the beach. A hard life...

Heard spring has sprung in the UK after the cold winter, and here it is starting to rain more and more, with some great thunderstorms thrown in. Not sure what to expect when the rainy season kicks in for real, but have my mackintosh and umbrella at the ready!

Take care,
B xx
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