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Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras revisited

GUATEMALA | Wednesday, 24 April 2013 | Views [1736]

Semana Santa - Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras revisited. 

It was a culture shock to return to Cancun after 3.5 weeks in Cuba but lovely to see Tamara before she returned to Australia. Finally went to the beach which is really an amazing color although so built up it is like the Gold Coast on steroids. Everything seemed so modern and advanced compared to Cuba. We had a great night dancing in Centro and scoffing wonderful Mexican street food after the blandness of its Carribean neighbour. We farewell Tamara and unloading our packs again ( sorry Tam) we hop on a second class bus and head to Valladolid.
We really didn't have any expectations. Just to get out of package touristville and see some more Mexican countryside. A pretty little town with two nice hostels where all private rooms were taken due to the spring equinox happening in a few days at the granddaddy of all Mayan ruins Chichen Itza. Looks like we will stay for that. It's hot and dry so we hire bikes and head out to the Cenotes. These are dotted all over the Yacatan peninsular and are huge beautiful underground caves filled with aqua water, stalactites dropping into the water, vines hanging from the roof and even a natural sky light.
We have a great time swimming and snorkelling looking at the cat fish.
We have an interesting couple of hours the next day as one of Paul's fillings has fallen out and the tooth crumbled. We think we have found an Enlish speaking dentist who was young, well equipped and scrupulously clean. communication is difficult but through charades and our fluent Spanglish he does a great job for $38. 
 We arrive at Chichen Itza early to avoid the crowd and it turns out a good move. It is by far the busiest of all Mayan Ruins and between the tour groups and vendors it does not have the atmosphere of Palenque, Tikal or Copan de Ruinas. It is pushing 40 degrees with little shade but a non chalant stroll into an adjoining 5 star hotel allows us a swim and a rest on the sun lounges. The shadow of a serpent can be seen down the side of the main pyramid at about 4 pm. It is a extraordinary site which happens just twice a year during spring and autumn equinox. 
We visit a beautiful Casa de Los Venales in Villadolid. A Chicago business man and his wife retired here and have the largest private collection of Mexican art in the country. It is a wonderfully generous gesture which raises money for local charity. You can ring the bell any time you like or take their tour at 10 am each day. 
Next stop is Merida and we finally scored the hostel jackpot with a private room overlooking the Plaza Grande. French doors open onto a Juliette balcony where the mariachi singers serenade the horse carriages. it is a great place to watch the world go by. We witness at least 2 parades from here and enjoy a liquid refreshment or two. Merida is a beautiful town with grand buildings but the temperature is rising and we endure quite a few days of extreme heat. We do as the locals do and siesta during the day and venture out in the evening when it is cooler. Lots of music here but the thing that impressed us most was every Sunday they close all the streets for over 5 km and families can cycle or walk the dog.
As it is the weekend before Semana Santa the cathedral is a busy place and we decide that we really should go to Antigua Guatemale for one of the best Easter festivals around. Only problem is lack of accommodation and after looking for a few days we finally get a cancellation for 2 nights. Wow now we have a big week of bus travel.
An overnight in Campeche ( the pirate city where we finally get a sea breeze ) on the Gulf of Mexico. A pretty little fairytale old city we enjoy the night with a big walk along the Malecon and a great fish cerviche dinner. .
Next stop Palenque and would you believe it's raining again so an overnight to San Christobel. The buses are busy with families heading home for Semana Santa as is the town with many Mexicans on Holidays and cannons booming throughout the town in preparation for this Holy celebration.
After another couple of days of buses sitting on plastic seats in the aisle....bloody uncomfortable! and we leave Mexico and cross into Guatemala for our second visit. At the border crossing we walk into the Mexican immigration office to get our exit stamp. They will try and get 300 pesos out of us ($24) . There is a bit of a queue, so I look at Leeanne and point back to the door. Lets keep going, we don't really need that stamp.....do we? Before we know it, we are in Guatemala with a new entry stamp. You beauty, 3 more months to explore Central America with a stern warning from the Guatemalans that if we go back to Mexico we may have a problem. We have hooked up with Jamahl a gorgeous African American guy with dreadlocks who creates quite a stir wherever he goes just by his physical presence. We share a typica menu for 1.50 with him and retire to our $2 per night flea bitten jail cell oh I mean room haha but it was close to the bus terminus for a quick escape in the morning. 
Imagine our surprise when we walk out at 7 am and the usually frantic chicken bus/people/collectivo filled terminus is empty save for one lonely bus. Semana Santa had started and we were lucky not to be stranded in Hue Hue for the weekend.
5 hours with an overpacked bus Paul and Jamahl reduced to plastic stools in  the aisle being climbed over by everyone at each banyo stop.
We only have about $2. Enough to get to Antigua, but not enough  for the yummy food offered on the bus  so we eat saladas and persevere.
Antigua for 3 nights gives us the chance to witness the mother of all Easter festivals. Semana Santa includes many organised street processions involving many thousands of Catholic devotees. They say this one of the biggest events of its kind anywhere in the world. I don't doubt it at all. We arise at 2.30 am and head for La Merced to watch the beginning of one. We pass many families making their Alhambras ( coloured sawdust picture carpets which line and decorate the streets for the procession to march through.)
Picture  Roman soldiers on horseback, thousands of  purple robed devotees accompanying or carrying the huge floats which were carried by 50 or 60 men. In was a solemn and haunting experience and obviously very moving for the believers.
We again run into this procession still marching around noon on its way back to the church. Typically they last for up to 10 hours with people leaving and joining the procession in some sort of organised chaos. The 30 piece band played the funeral march over and over with the noise of drums trombones and tubas punctuating the air. The music is played in an unusual off- key note which makes its sound more haunting! Incense is burned along the route from large vessels until the street is covered in smoke. There are three or four of these processions every day over the weekend with slight changes from purple to black robes. There is a woman's procession as well and finally on Sunday there is a more joyous march with dancing and colourful clothes to commemorate Christ rising again.
This has been a memorable way to celebrate my 51st birthday and revisit Antigua but we need a well earned rest so we head up to Earth Lodge for a few days to clear our heads, relax and plan a forward route.
This is very easy to do watching the volcanos puff away, swinging in a hammock, enjoying good company. We do yoga every day and get some good advice about the beaches and decide to head for El Salavador but first we want to visit the family in Honduras to see how they are going.
We retrace our steps and cross into Honduras, staying in Copan. Everything seems so easy to visit a place second time around. Same people,going about their daily routine with little fuss. Women serving cheap meals in the market, men dressed like cowboys. Boots, hats and big buckled belts holding up their denim jeans. The sound of horses on the cobblestone streets.
We prepare for the long walk out to see Sophie's adopted family. Empty out a backpack, buy as much maize, frijoles, and fresh fruit we can carry. Spontaneous smiles all round when we arrive at the humble home of Teresa and her 6 kids. They never thought they'd see us again, or perhaps they believed there was a chance we would come back, because we said we might. Even for a brief visit.
We spend the next 2 days with them, sitting, talking, reading school books, eating tortillas and frijoles, and playing with the younger ones. The oldest daughter explains she has a school project to do requiring Internet research. How unfair for her, as the family have never had a computer, or rarely any form of electrical appliance for that matter. She hasn't used the Internet before, so we offer to take her into town, find a nice lady with a computer and printer, and at least give her a finished project for school. Both she and her mum are grateful, we buy them both a coke. We watch as they saviour every mouthful. To say goodbye is always hard. Hugs all round and a few tears are shed.......until next visit...one day.

Tags: antigua, cenotes, chichen itza, guatemala, honduras, merida, mexico, semana santa, vallodolid


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