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We LOVE Guatemala!

USA | Monday, 24 June 2013 | Views [392]

The best shot so far - Temple I

The best shot so far - Temple I

We made the one hour flight to Guatemala City in unexpected ease – we ended up in Business class, only to wish it was our flight to Europe that will have all the comfort instead of this short flight.  We have been very surprised by the ease of transport as well as the infrastructure so far here.

 

Antigua

Headed immediately to Antigua, which is so very lovely!  The history of all the churches, as well as the effort to keep it beautiful makes the comparison to Nicaragua striking.  It feels like we are in a European city rather than Central America.  Surprisingly French in feel rather than Spanish, as there are crepes, pastries and espresso everywhere.  Stayed in a nice little hotel right next to La Merced church which houses the largest fountain in Central America, and the baroque exterior is beautiful.  All the buildings are brightly painted (as well as weathered and with great patina from earthquakes, rain and fires), making for excellent pictures in the morning light. Visited the “Mercado” (market) which is a bustling six square blocks of both tourist craft hocking and local shopping mall.  Decided to wait until we are out of the city a little to get any souvenirs, as I was a little overwhelmed by it all (especially the “fresh” chicken and fish stalls inside the six foot high ceiling maze – a little claustrophobic!)

Visited the ruins of Churches of San Francisco and Santa Clara which, along with most buildings in the town, were destroyed in the 1773 earthquake.  However, unlike “ruins” in other countries, the grounds around these have been lovingly landscaped, creating a park-like feel inside the walls of the church.  Jackson and I rode a horse around the central square - he was just a little too small for me to comfortably let him ride by himself, despite the man’s assurance that the small rope he would string around him would keep him on.  Had a great lunch from food carts in the park (for $3 total) and then happened back to our hotel just in time to see the procession of Corpus Christi pass in front of our little off-street hotel. There were brilliantly colored “Puenteareas floral carpets” in front of the Le Merced church and along our little street, which are made from stained wood chips, flowers and pine needles.

According to Wikipedia: Corpus Christi is a celebration of the Catholic Church to celebrate the Eucharist. Its main purpose is to proclaim and increase of the Catholic faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament (aka proselytise). The procession included several young alter boys and girls, a few lower-ranking priests, and three higher priests (under the Canopy, holding the Eucharist), as well as an acoustic and a jazz band.  Very New Orleans in style.  It stopped in front of us to bless the man standing next to us because he specially adorned the front of his doorway with a detailed floral pattern. All very random and cool for us to witness.

We hiked up to a hill at the end of town to look down on all of Antigua and across at the Agua volcano, which looks like it is ready to blow again at any moment.  Extended our stay here a day just to enjoy the pace, food and beauty.

And we made our first on-the-road pairdown of stuff.  Shipped a box home to lighten our load a little.  Still feel like we are a walking caravan, but still getting our bearings on what we really need.

 

Lake Atitlan – San Pedro

We made the three hour trip to Lake Atitlan with 12 other people in the tightly packed minivan (loving called the “kendo van” by Jackson).  It is so relaxed here.  The vibe is very holistic, with vegetarian and curries on every menu, and yoga classes going on throughout the village.  San Pedro is one of eight little villages around this lake, each with it’s own flare. Chris keeps saying how easily it would be to get lost here for a few years, and live in comfort very cheaply as well. I am writing this while swinging on a hammock outside our two-bed room that has a water view, TV, WiFi and hanging floral vines around it, all for $15/night.  Went on a 2-hour horseback ride to coffee plantations today. We were pleasantly surprised how well Jackson did, but the tour itself was rather anticlimactic.  I must confess, I was likely more scared of the ride than J – and by the end I too was comfortable on my sweet little horse.

Chris and I are both really enjoying Guatemala more than we expected.  I was frankly a little concerned regarding safety, picturing men with semiautomatics on every corner and having to scurry to our next destination with valuables tucked away in a tummy belt.  That is so far from our experience.  We are taking precautions, but we feel incredibly safe and welcomed.  San Pedro in particular is chill, with walking paths throughout the village – the only traffic being motorcycles and tuk-tuks. The cuture here in general is a mix of traditional (women and children dressed in vibrant hand woven fabrics of the culture) and modern (WiFi available in every coffee shop, hotel and hut). We can’t figure out how Nicaragua has become so popular in the last few years, while Guatemala is still relatively unknown as a travel destination to Americans.  We have met a few here, but even more Isrealis (go figure). We plan to keep it secret except to our closest friends to help maintain the feel.

Jackson has been great here as well, with very little tantrumming he is our happy little boy again. Still working on the theory that he was overheated in Nicaragua and therefore unhappy.  It is much cooler and less humid here than Nicaragua and we all are more comfortable.  We are wearing pants every evening but are far from cold, which helps me to justify packing them in our very limited baggage.

 

Tikal

Getting to Tikal in the northeast corner of the country was an adventure (details later down), but the experience once there was amazing.  The largest Mayan complex uncovered so far, it has wonderful temples, straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.  We strapped on the backpack carrier for two straight days, hiking out to the ruins two or three times per day from our hotel, which was just inside the park. We even did a sunrise tour (leaving the hotel at 4 am) with Jackson right behind us.  To say the least, we were both very tired and soar with that much hauling him around (the extra 40 lbs really wears on your feet).  But we are so happy we spent the extra time, effort and money to see Tikal.  Being there you begin to understand just how powerful the Mayan culture was.  All the buildings are aligned perfectly east-west to capture solstices and sunrise/sets to honor their gods. We were both a little disappointed that the largest temples (I, II and IV) you are no longer allowed to climb.  Although we sat on top of IV for both sunrise and set, we did so by climbing up attached wooden stairways as the temple, itself is still mostly covered by earth and they are doing restoration on the west. Tikal is definitely my favorite part of the trip so far.  I am excited to compare these structures to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in a few months.

 

All except Guatemala City…

The one thing I wanted to avoid at all costs while traveling in Guatemala was overnight in Guatemala City.  So of course, that’s exactly what happened - we ended up staying in a very bad part of town (near the bus station) overnight.  We had planned to go through on our way from Lake Atitlan to Tikal, with a brief layover in the station for two hours prior to our overnight ride, where we would all hopefully sleep.  However, the first shuttle we took was delayed 90 min and the “no problem getting a ticket to Tikal” was a big problem when we arrived and were told it was sold out.  Desperate in the one place we were warned repeatedly not to hang out at night and not able to fully communicate well in Spanish, we briefly panicked.  Which of course was when Jackson decided to have a complete and utter meltdown.  Obviously overwhelmed and desperate, a nice lady volunteered to help and pointed us in the direction of a clean, safe hotel only a 2 min cab ride away.  It delayed our trip almost a full day, but we survived, regrouped and caught the 10 am bus that landed us the next evening in the jungle just in time to check in. It could have been much much worse (especially since travelers we had met told us whatever you do, do not leave the bus station)!

 

Now on to Belize for a few more Mayan ruins and a lot of beach time!

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