Tikal and then banana wigs in Livingston

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
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Trip End Jun 25, 2008


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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guatemala

Our first stop in Guatemala was a place called Flores on an island in the Peten Itza lake. Originally called  Tayasal, it was the place the Mayan from Chichen Itza settled when their site was captured by the  Toltecs.

It's a pretty place with cobblestone streets that lead up the hill to the main square, with views of the lake all around and delicious burritos.

Tikal
Getting up at five am, we went to the national park and Mayan ruins of Tikal.

The road signs as you drive in tell you to go slow with pictures of jaguars, snakes, wild turkeys and others. Tikal lived up to its reputation. With our excellent guide  Louis who grew up in the area, we saw an incredible amount of wildlife:
a whole family of coatis , twice. They look like large rodents with long noses like fox terriers and  with amazing tails that they hold straight up.They were completely unfazed by us and came really close.
 howler monkeys - once again we saw them twice, the second time when they were in the main plaza. The most amazing thing about howler moneys is their call. I've never heard anything like it.  The closest thing it sounds like is the Len Lye industrial kinetic sculptures that are  in the Govett Brewster art gallery in New Plymouth. Huge strips of steel are twirled and spun and they make erry, deep groans. That's what the howler monkeys sound like. We were lucky enough to hear a fine display when we were sitting atop of the tallest structure with the view that is in Star Wars. I took a video of the view with the monkey call as the soundtrack, so hopefully that will come out. 
spider monkeys, playful and rowdy
tarantula- we just saw his velvety legs under a rock ledge as he wasn't falling for our guides taunts to make him come out
toucans, amazing birds with massive yellow beaks
woodpeckers,beautiful with a bright red head like a turban.  So neat to hear them hitting the trunk with their beaks.
parrots, flying overhead in pairs with bright green, red and yellow
weird an wonderful bugs, including insects that looked like fungus growing  on a tree, colourful grasshoppers and white moth that was apparently very poisonous.
fresh water crocodiles, or rather just the eyeballs
turtles
 and most amazing of all, a harpy eagle. He had decided to build a nest in a large ceiba tree near the main entrance and was trying to break and collect branches  for it, fairly unsuccessfully, but it was amazing to watch. Quite a crowd gathered and he looked at us and pulled the branch he was unable to break over as if to say 'don't just stand there staring, help me'.  I think harpy eagles are very rare so it was a real privilege.

The ruins were also impressive; the tallest structures in the Mayan world and surely the steepest, but I must confess I was more  interested in the wildlife.  One girl in our group had her first ever attack of vertigo, so that gives a sense of the scale of the structures.

Rio Dulce
Our next stop was another jungle lodge on the Rio Dulce.

The place we stayed had a fantastic pool with two elevated spa pools with water that ran down into the main pool

Egged on by the girls in the spa looking for some entertainment, the guys started a competition of who could walk furtherest on their hands underwater. From our elevated vantage point we had the perfect view of the assorted legs sticking out of the water, at varying degrees of brownness, hairiness and vertical-ness. It was hilarious; males doing synchronized swimming. Unfortunately they got a little too into the spirit and all ended up with cut finger tips from the bottom of the pool. Still, us girls enjoyed it.

The next day we took a boat down to Livingston, but headed upriver first to look at the San Felipe fort that was  built to protect the stores from pirates. It also gave us an opportunity to look at Lake Izabal, the largest in Guatemala.

We next stopped to look at thousand bird island, with trees covered in shag-like birds and then to admire some lilies. The driver said they flower for only a day. If so it was a special day, given the number of flowers out.

Then we stopped at a hot spring. It comes out the side of the river and makes the top layer of water really hot, whereas it's cool underneath.  It wasn't really the weather for soaking, so we only had a short dip, but long enough to tarnish our silver jewelery with the sulfur.

Soon we were at Livingston. Like Belize, it has a large population of black people. Once again we saw lots of dreads and the latest fashion - a banana bunch wig. I think the lady was wearing them rather than carry them in a bag to avoid bruising them, but it suited her brilliantly. They curved around her head perfectly. Ingenious.

Trying to save money, I took my ham sandwich down to the beach to eat rather  than join the others in a restaurant. It was  very dark looking out to sea, but calm on the beach. I took out my sandwich and began eating, wondering what the statue 25 metres offshore was . I was only half way through eating it when I was hit by flying sand. My calm beach had become the opposite. Shop owners hurried to cover or bring in outside stock, tying things down. It gave me a sense of the less idyllic side of life on the Caribbean: hurricanes. The wind blew its little heart out for half an hour and then stopped as abruptly as it started.

I joined the others in the restaurant and had a delicious banana shake. They were still waiting for their food, a common occurrence in Guatemala. Scott from Australia had ordered fish soup and joked about  how long could it take, miming ladling soup into a bowl. All was revealed when it finally arrived. Along the curve of the bowl lay a whole fish, on that sat a crab and the rest of the spaces were filled with prawns and shellfish. Quite a soup!

Other items of note at Livingston was the town crocs and the public laundries. Ive never seen them before.
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