Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Guatemala Round-Up

So, I realize I've been a bit of a bad blogger. It's taken me awhile to finish up blogging about our trip, my apologies. I've been taking it easy and also been weirdly busy, and then weirdly sick. Like, for real weirdly sick, who actually gets vertigo? Then, now that the vertigo finally has gone away, I manage to come down with a horrendously gross cold. Ish.

So, I'm hoping to recover in time to enjoy some California sunshine this weekend. Myself and two other fun ladies will be heading down to San Diego to visit the lovely Ms. Jacquelyn for a weekend of fun in the sun. Hopefully I won't still be hacking up something awful at this point.

Anyhow... so as to finish the point of this post! Finishing up our adventure!

After Antigua, Alex and I hopped on a shuttle bus to Panajachel, the small town on Lago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. The shuttlebus, was a rather large minivan, but ended up being more of a clown car. Alex and I were somewhere in the middle of the pick-up schedule, and after another stop, thought for sure the bus was full. But to our surprise, the bus kept stopping! Our little shuttle was full to capacity, to say the least.

The drive to Pana was about 3 hours and uneventful, but beautiful. The countryside was truly spectacular. We visited Guatemala in the dry season, so things were a little browner then normal, but overall, gorgeous volcanos and rolling hillsides everywhere you looked. It was however, another of those drives you just don't want to watch. Those of you who have ridden busses in developing countries know what I mean. Sometimes drivers like to tear through mountain roads, sometimes at speeds us silly American tourists don't particularly like. Sometimes really close to cliffs we really don't like either. Trust me, you just don't look. However, one thing I found curious about Guatemalan drivers, with the exception of one, every single one we had, taxi's included, wore a seatbelt. Whoever is on public safety patrol in Guatemala is doing something right, I have never, ever, seen that before while traveling.

After our bus ride, we found ourselves in Panajachel, gateway to Lago de Atitlan. Pana was extremely touristy. Basically, the two main streets go restaurant, craft shop, craft shop, craft shop,restaurant, tourist agency, hostel, craft stand. I wasn't super a fan of that part, however, upon making our way down to the lake, I understood what all the rage was about.

Lago de Atitlan was spectacular.
(Yes, I tweaked the color a little bit, but, it really was spectacular!)



Mostly, I just really liked this flower petal.

It's basically a huge crater surrounded by beautiful volcanos. It was a bit cloudy when we arrived, so you could just barely see the mountainsides behind the clouds. Everything looked a bit mysterious. However, the following day was perfectly clear. It was simply stunning. Alex and I rented a kayak and explored the lake and had a great time. Though, just as we got out towards the middle, the wind decided to pick up quite a bit and we end up completely soaked. Oh well, all part of the adventure.

The last stop on our trip was Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the north east part of the country. Getting there was an entire days journey in itself. We caught a "chicken bus" one of the local public busses from Pana to Guatemala city, then bought tickets for another bus from Guate to the town of Flores. All in all, we left Panajachel at 7:30am and didn't arrive in Flores until 10:30 that night. Much too many hours on a bus if you ask me. It also meant that as we arrived late in Flores, all the good hostels were taken and we had to take a not as nice place, it was fine, but really, also kind of icky, for much too high a price. However, luckily, the next morning we left right away and found an awesome hostel, the much nicer and also much cheaper! Horray!

Our first day in Flores was mostly recovery from the bus trek. Also, we were feeling a little sickly, so wanted to take it easy. Flores is an easy town to do that in luckily. The pace here was super laid back, and mainly, all you need to do is lay in a hammock and enjoy the view.


Our only stress was the we were running out of cash. And the only ATM in Flores did work for our ATM cards. Crap. After going to the bank and exchanging the rest of our American dollars, we tried unsuccessfully to get a cash advance from our credit card. Hmm. Our main problem would be having enough cash to buy the bus tickets back to Guatemala. Really, something we didn't want to do again. Then Alex came up with the brilliant idea of buying plane tickets back. These, unlike bus tickets, could be purchased with a credit card. After a little thinking, mostly about how we hated long bus rides, we decided to go for it. Expensive, but oh so very worth it in the end.

Anyhow, the reason for the adventure this far in the first place. Tikal! Now, Alex being Alex, he insisted that we get there right away, meaning leaving on the 5am bus. (Tikal is about an hour and 15 minutes from Flores). I wasn't pleased with this idea, but went along with it anyhow.

Although we ended up being much too late for sunrise, it was nice being the only ones there in the morning. Except for the walking in part. I had read lots of stories about how in the past people had been robbed on the trails around Tikal. (One of the most appealing parts of Tikal is that is still very much within the jungle.) This apparently doesn't happen really anymore because they've amped up security and park rangers, but, when we were walking into the Grand Plaza, we were literally the only people on the path in the middle of the jungle. I have a very active imagination. I totally managed to spook myself. Luckily, as I was about to make Alex turn back, a ranger and another couple came along. We never had anything to worry about. However, I was still jumpy the whole day whenever we were walking between the temples, often times we managed to be the only people around. Very eery.



Overall the temples at Tikal were very neat. But I think more then anything, I liked the views of the jungle from the top and the wildlife that surrounded them. There were all kinds of critters hanging around and tons of birds, and I will always be happy to take pictures of monkeys!










Unlike the temples at Angkor, these were all very similar. Most were pyramids or variations of. I enjoyed myself, but have certainly been spoiled by the site in Siem Riep.

Mold on the temple walls.

I really liked the texture of the thatch roofs.



On an ending note, Guatemala was a beautiful country to visit. It reminded both Alex and I of many places we had travelled before, yet had it's own unique aspects. For me, I kept seeing glimpses of Senegal, but with a Central American twist. Though the patterns were different, the women still sway through the streets in brightly colored skirts with their goods balanced atop their heads, the busses as colorful as ever. Alex commented that a lot of the cities reminded him of Hoi An, the little colonial town we spent a week in while in Vietnam. Clearly as well, lots of Ecuador could be seen in the street of Guatemala as well, especially in the little family front stores like those my host family owned in Calera.

When we first had thought about going to Guatemala on our honeymoon, we opted not to. We had heard stories it wasn't safe, that tourists got hijacked on busses, that it was too dangerous. I was still anxious about riding on busses at night, and we were extra careful when we went out for dinner in the evenings. I'm happy to report we had no issues, and overall we had a wonderful trip. I have no idea if we were just lucky, but I feel as though this may be one of the cases were some of the worry is overstated. Clearly, there is a lot of violence in Guatemala, particular areas of Guatemala City do need to be avoided. There is a lot of inequality, and lot of poverty, this creates bad situations.

However, I'm so very glad that we went. There is a lot of good in Guatemala to be seen as well. And I would love to go back. Most of all I want to actually see the Guatemala that is not tourist shop, restaurant, tourist shop. We did what we could in a week, but next time, we will venture off the beaten track for sure.


1 comment:

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