Guatemala the Mayan land

Trip Start Aug 28, 2004
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Trip End Aug 2005


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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Friday, March 11, 2005

After a selected number of buses and various other forms of transport we make it here in one piece!!! What a contrast to Belize, with regards to the people, Belizian people make it appear as though they are very busy doing nothing (or it may be true!!). Our crossing into Guatemala was pretty straightforward if not a tad costly, but it saved us on time. you pay monies to various offficials, but for what exactly we are not entirely sure!!!

Flores which is a tiny isle off "Santa Elena", (alongside a vast stretch of a lake) is lovely and very relaxed, full of colourful buildings everywhere. we spent three days exploring, catching up and generally taking time to plan the rest of our stay in Guatemala. Our main reason for coming here was to explore the ancient ruins of "Tikal" and observe the National Park and all it's wildlife too. Tikal is a pretty impressive site with a huge array of Temples and it's central Plaza where much of Mayan life took place. The variety of bird species out here in Guatemala is just stunning, we saw some that we have yet to find out the name for, whom build hanging nests and they just perch themselves inside and chill out, whilst making the loudest noise you can ever imagine a bird to make. They are usually a delicate species in the animal kingdom. In addition to this we experienced the hefty shaking of tree{s only to look up and see a "Spider Monkey" flying from branch to branch, with his very gangly arms and legs and big white tub of a belly. A very comical sight indeed!!! But no sighting of the infamous "Howler Monkeys, whom surprisingly are very noisy!!!! they only emerge when it is early morning (a no hoper with Martin and early waking up!!!) or when it is dusk.

On our way towards Temple five, we saw a whole group of what appeared to be ant eaters but they may something similar. Clearly hunting and foraging around for both insects and other nice things like tree sap etc.... they are very comical to watch as they burrow frantically for whatever they have discovered. If you're feeling fit and obviously we were!!! You can make quite a climb to see both the sunrise and the sunset. But we caught it midday in the blazing hot sunshine!! From this vantage point you can observe the sheer scale of the Mayan site, and it's totally hidden in amongst the jungle and very well preserved. The Plaza of the seven Temples is currently the most recent excavation taking place and you can literally see just how much the trees and shrubs have grown over and obscured the stone structures beneath.

After Tikal, and another chicken bus experience, (they are actually very comfy and extremely cheap too considering, where we have travelled thro'). We then headed on down to "Lago Izabal" approx 200km southeast of "Tikal", a large lake full of what are known as "Yachtie", rich folk with shiny boats.... At Rio Dulce, we caught a boat across the lake although it was so big you virtually lost vision of the horizon at points. An hour later we arrived at a mini haven for relaxing, Kayaking to observe possible Mannatee's (still very elusive here too!!), Taurpin fish, which look very like a mini dolphin when you see them arching out of the water alongside a silvery splash of water. They were jumping out of the water all around our Kayak. The birds go crazy at this and you can see where the fish are, as the birds are diving in afterwards to catch the little fish that come up too. Nature is incredible in action, and we had the time to properly observe whilst being here.

Another trip out was to go over to "Fine El Paraiso" and experience the worlds only hot waterfall and pool (just like a sauna), across the lake from where we stayed, it was lovely walk ending in a soak in a hot waterfall. A geothermal spring bubbles up hot water which cascades down a rock into a stream which is conveiently flowing into a pool below, you can swi}m under the overhanging promontery and really take in the steam factor!!(are you impressed with the termionology??). An added facter to this were the very curious fish whom come and nibble at you underwater, they eat the algae from the rocks!!! It was really lovely and after we explored further, going up to some limestone caves where Martin had the great pleasure of Bats flying out at him (don't know who was most startled, him or the Bat?!!). then another decided it was all too much and deposited a gift on his foot. On our return we saw a grass snake of some sort, very thin (little pinky dimensions) and about a metre long. We need to get a spotters book and look all of this up for future reference!! We know what not to hang about and poke at, and thats the main thing!!!

On that note the following day as we, or rather I (Heike) was preparing for our departure, I got the biggest alarm call when moving my rucsack, as an almighty stinging pain richocheted thro' my right hand little finger. A demon Scorpion and a massive yell from myself, lo'ts of hopping about and thinking maybe I'd just caught myself on the zip, but no.....I got Martin to carefully move the rucsack into the middle of the room. Having not seen or heard anything run away, he/she was still in/on the rucsack!!! Martin saw it first a big black bugger!!! Paul one of the guys working at the Hotel came to the rescue and using his tools of toilet paper and sticks removed the offender and it's dinner of Cockroach too! Martin being the sick person he is, (obviously never been stung by a scorpion!!!) wanted to keep it as a reminder and to mount on our return. So it was put into the freezer and we took it with us to "Antigua". The moral of that story is never get complacent about the bug world, especially when you are relaxing....Two new things I learnt that day were, Scorpions like to eat Cockroaches and the smell of fresh wood. But also that if you are stung, then as well as getting tingling sensation in the area stung, you may experience it in the mouth too?
Luckily I only got stung once so I didn't die.

We did a whistle stop tour of "Guatemala City", it's nothing special and extremely noisy too. It's good to change over to your next destination and that is about all.

"Antigua" is a very traditonal city, built by the Spanish, unlike Guatemala City, (now the capital). It has a lovely feeling about it and is very typically Guatemalan, despite having many visitors come to learn Spanish and sight see. The buildings are just simple and brightly coloured in appearance, with red spanish tiled rooftops, unlike the rest of Guatemala and the ladies and girls dress in their wonderful woven fabrics and are just full of character. It is a big build up to "Holy Week"...."Santa Semana" and so we have seen people milling about in preparation, the flower traders putting together decorations, and choirboys going thro' mini parades...the rest have still to come. We have discovered some great local eateries along the way (and are not getting any thinner)induldging in the local fare.

In addition to "Antigua" itself, which is pretty flat and physically unchallenging. We have also bee up and walking around the active volcan "Pacaya", although Lady Luck was not with us on the weather front and we could only see the smoke curling from the primary crater. It is a pretty well organised affair, as in the past Bandits have mugged and attacked tourists on the route up to the volcanoe. So although you are in a larger group than you would like to be, the adage "safety in numbers" could not be truer in this case.

We witnessed the big celebrations for "Palm Sunday" whilst in Antigua and this was whole day parade walking throūghout the entire city. The men of the city carry big wooden lengths of wood with various scenes depicted from the build up towards Christs death and resurrection, the boys wave incense about and many musicians follow the procession. The women carried a smaller wooden piece with Mary stood upon it in mourning and they were all dressed in black, with veils drawn over their faces. We got to see a lot of the traditionally dressed Mayan folk and how the families spend their time together. It is a deeply religious community spirit and it{s there for all to join in and share too. The rest of the week in the build up will be a full on affair and there are different processions each day.

From Antigua we moved onto "Lago Atitlan" which is a lake formed from a collapsed volcanic cone "caldera" and is very deep at 320m. It{s surrounded by three vocanoes, Volcan Tolima 3158m, Atitlan 3537m and San pedr 3020m, making a pretty spectacular backdrop to the landscape.

We now plan to start out from Pananchal (known as Gringoentango, because of the many visitors to the area), and then walk around half of the lake thro a series of the small villages, San Pedro, San Juan, Santa Clara and san Pablo. Giving us more insight to the lifestyles of ther "Hill tribe people" the real Mayan people with less spanish influence over the years..... a lot of coffee is grown here as well as weed (hence the Grinog label!!!). the main produce in addition to this is maize, which is used in all manner of cooking and diet of the locals, from Tortilla to well everything!!! It is also a popular area for meditation and yoga, basing the ideals upon the traditions of the Mayan population and their ancestral beliefs. a lot of emphasis is placed upon the "physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development of humans. so there you have it!


BANDITS WITH MACHETE WARNING!!!!

It was too good to be true, we arrived in Pancanel and found it to be a quirky little town, full of many tourists. we decided to go across the Lago Atitlan and take a walk thro“the villages and then take a boat back over to "Pananchal". After about an hour to two hours walking we were taken completely by surprise by two youths, wielding a rahter large "machete", they got away with our camera, martins watch (10 years of sentimental valu) and very little money!!! We were lucky and unlucky all in one. Not at any point did any of the three Police on motorbikes stop to warn us of the local dangers, it was broad daylight after all and no one pointed out any specific threats to be aware of. After bumping into two Police Officers and going thro“the area talking to people were we informed of the common occurrance of people getting mugged, but usually by somone on a motorbike. Several hours later and one police report later we were on our way back to base without a bean to our naem (well 2 Quetzales!!). we met two really nice german guys, living in Berlin and went for a drink with them as they paid our boat fare back to "Panchanal".

The moral of the story is don“t ever think, it“ll never happen to you and always be on your guard, no matter how little or big things may appear to be. We were lucky it did not get violent and cause us injury, thats all I am thankfull for!!! even if we are camera less!!!
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