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Stop Here for Wonderment

Just Me and Dad in Guatemala

GUATEMALA | Friday, 1 April 2011 | Views [675]


One day, I was looking at the "1,000 places to go before you die" book, and I saw Tikal.  I thought, "I want to go there" so I asked my parents (I was visiting them at the time) if anyone wanted to go for my 30th birthday.  My mom said, "Why don't you take your father?" and I did, and it was the Best.  Birthday.  Ever.  Just me and dad.

Day 1 – 7/11/07 - My 30th Birthday


We wake up and get ready.  There’s a problem.  Dad has lost his Passport.  I am trying to hide my immense irritation, knowing that will make things worse, but as I look around the house, piled high with useless crap, I think, “THIS is why things get lost.”  I wanted to torch the house.  My parents just keep everything.  Every piece of paper EVER, every knick-knack.  AUGH!  But I digress.  So we finally get out the door (only after dad has printed something off the computer) and high tail it to Fort Lauderdale.  It’s a four-hour drive.  The drive is rather uneventful, and I read most of the way down.


Once we get to the airport, we begin to look for remote parking, which seems to be nowhere.  We know there is remote parking, the website said so, but the signs are hidden, at best.  When we finally find the parking, we have spent 20 minutes driving around the airport.


We get in the bus, which will take us to the terminal.  I notice a sign that says, “Fort Lauderdale Int’l airport is ranked #5 in customer service” and I joke that it must be because the airport itself sucks so badly.  What a foreshadowing.  We get to Spirit Air and there is a line a mile long.  We get into one line, which seems odd to me, so I ask…and we are in the wrong line.  As we are headed for another line, which is out the door, I get a hunch and ask again.  Wrong line again.  We ask a third person who points us towards a “closed” line in front of a Spirit Air counter.  We get into line behind a woman and her husband and grown son.  She informs us that the line is closed; they are the last people for the line.  While dad goes to ask, AGAIN, if we are in the right lines, she pulls the cord across the entrance.  I am annoyed, but much to her dismay, the official woman comes over and opens the line.  Everyone in line is then asked to remove their luggage from the cart and the carts will be stored to the side.  There is simply not enough room in the line for people, luggage and carts.  You would think the control freak in line had been asked to give up her firstborn child.  I thought it would simply UNDO her.  She had two pieces of luggage, her husband had two pieces and so did her son (not including carry-ons).  Were they going to the Galapagos for a month and had to bring their own food?  No…they were going to Lima, Peru for two weeks.  Sheesh.  If I had to travel with her, I’d kill me or her…or both of us.


We check in, leave dad’s bag to be scanned (where I am sure, SURE it will not make it on the plane) and get in the line for security.  It’s like a Disney line…miles long, yet snaked forever so it feels like you are moving a lot.  And they don’t have enough scanners open.  And everyone is late for the Peru flight.  The security line is hell, everyone is getting in front of us, and I finally start handing out those little gray trays, since everyone else seems to be late for Peru.


Once we get inside the terminal, we stop and get a bag of trail mix and a bag of peanuts.  This will save our lives more than once.


We sit near the gate; they announce a gate change, we go to the new gate.  I then notice that people are boarding when the sign says “Bahamas”, but our plane seems to be late boarding.  So I ask.  No, despite no boarding call or a sign change, it IS our plane that is boarding.  This makes me wonder how many millions of Customer Service calls FLL fields every hour.


We get on the plane and the flight is uneventful.  We snack.  When we arrive, they are obviously redoing Guatemala City Airport, and there is nothing in it.  Once we hit the outside, I am immediately reminded of Tel Aviv airport, without the leers and catcalls.  We call the hotel (praise be to T-Mobile whose service works!  Not so much for Nextel) and get picked up.  We check into out little room and sleep…sort of…


Day 2 – 7/12/07


We get up super early to catch a flight to Flores.  The night bus has been ruled out because a) it takes 10 hours and b) my friend Haydy’s dad got mugged on the night bus.  I kind of want to take it, dad says no, so I inform that he has to pony up the $400 extra bucks to get to Tikal by plane (I had paid for everything else).  Our tickets TO Guatemala from Florida were only $360 total.  Check in is a breeze.  We head to security, but find ourselves in a tax line.  20 Quetzales (about $3) to exit the airport.  We will pay this same tax 3 more times before we finally leave Guatemala.


We get to the terminal and go to our gate, which has a sign for Belize on it.  I figure we are at the right place anyway.  A young, rather good-looking guy sits across from us and asks us where we are headed.  We tell him.  He then tries to convince us to stay in El Remate instead.  I think he is either going to get a commission or…no, I only think he is somehow getting paid.  And he smells of rum.  He tells us he has lived in Guatemala for a while, went to Canada to fight in Afghanistan, and that Jaguar Inn in Tikal is touristy but that El Remate is more spiritual.  He keeps asking if he is annoying us.  He is, but I feel bad for him somehow.  Anyhow, I tell him the truth: Jaguar Inn has my CC# and I can’t cancel.  He says he is sorry he did not convince us otherwise and we board.  Once we get to Flores, I think that I should get his e-mail anyway, just in case there is some validity.  I see him and his friend with an older woman.  When I ask him for contact info, he introduces me to Anne, his mom.  She runs a project called “Ixcanaan” or “Guardians of the Rainforest.”  It is a medical/educational/ecological project for the people of El Remate.  Ahhhh.  THIS makes sense.  She gives me her e-mail and web address, http://www.ixcanaan.com and I tell her that next time maybe. 


Turns out “next time” is going to be the next day as the TACA airlines person has booked us to leave on the 14th, not the 13th.


We take our little mini-bus to Tikal, just dad, and me and marvel at the countryside.  When we get to Tikal we eat breakfast and check in.  We then head into the park.


There is no real way to describe Tikal.  None of the photos do it justice; none of the articles really explain the splendor.  Not as impressive as the Giza pyramids, but quite impressive, nonetheless.  Especially when you realize that the Mayans did not have the wheel.  They did, however, have an incredibly accurate calendar.  Anyhow, we spent almost 7 hours wandering in the rainforest, checking out the ruins.  Truly extraordinary.  Monkeys hooting, birds calling.  I stood under an allspice tree while a brightly colored birds dropped Allspice pods on my head.  We must have used “amazing” and “extraordinary” a hundred times.  All other words had escaped us.  I walked to the top of three pyramids, dad did one.  I pulled something in my ass, but it was worth it to see the temple tops above the rainforest.  It's such a pain, walking up steep steps on the side of this pyramid, but then you get to the top and BAM!  There you are, totally above the tree canopy, seeing the other pyramid tops, so green, so magnificent, so indescribable.  Wandering out of the park felt like something in a horror film, as it seemed like we were walking forever with no one else around.  Maybe ancient Mayan vampire people would come out of the ground and eat us. 


We got back, had some crappy lunch (compared to awesome breakfast) and napped.  Well, dad napped, I read in a hammock.  We went to dinner after trying to book a reservation in El Remate (we failed).  We went to a local Comedor in the park, where the park employees ate.  Dad is always up for a food adventure.  We walked tehre in the dark.  Total dark.  Real dark.  No streetlights, no ambient light.  The kind of dark that has NO light.  We used our cell phones as flashlights.  We got across the camp and the food was wonderful and cheap.  Always eat where the local do.  Walking back in the darkness, we looked up and noticed we could actually see the MILKY WAY.  Dad hadn’t seen it since he was a Boy Scout camping in East Texas, and I hadn’t seen it since I was in the desert in Jordan.  It was spectacular.  So amazing to be able to see it!  We sat on the grass for what seemed like forever, and marveled at the detail, the gasses, the colors.  It was breathtaking.  We took hot showers and went to bed, fumbling around in the darkness because Jaguar Inn only has hot water from 6am-9am and electricity from 6pm-9pm.  So when the lights go out, the lights are OUT.


Day 3 – 7/13/07


We were awakened from our deep, exhausted slumber by the loudest, most obnoxious bird noise ever.  And there were a flock of them.  Outside our room (bungalow, really).  Since it was around 7am, we went ahead and got up, showered and ate, then headed to the two museums in the park.  If I had to do it over again, I would spend more DAYS at Tikal, but less CONSECUTIVE HOURS.  We saw the pottery and Stelae of the Mayans and then hopped a small van (like the ones we rent in Israel to get to the dig site) to get to El Remate. 


We were dropped off by the side of the road when it began to rain.  We finally saw the hotel we were looking for, the “La Mansion del Pajaro Serpiente.”  We climbed up the steps to check in and got into our hotel.  The view was amazing.  The hotel overlooks Lago Peten Itza and it is beautiful.  For lunch, we head across the street (big mistake).  The joint is obviously for tourists, the food sucks and there is a woman beating her son with a belt, as best as I can hear.  I tell dad that we are going to leave if she continues.  I should have punched her.  No one should beat a child like that.  Anyhow, the food is crap, but there is a lovely little parrot named Paco.  I try to get him to sit on my arm, and he wants to, but he keeps testing the “bark” with his beak.  Which means he is biting me.  Which means it REALLY hurts.  So I walk away. 


We call Anne and she shows us around the project.  It is truly amazing; their work to provide education, medical care and teach the locals that they can do something other can kill the rainforest to survive.  I do it no justice here.  I was amazing and appalled by the clinic, pleased by the library, yet sad they had so few books and inspired by Anne and Enrique.  They understand needs and know that you cannot teach environmentalism if people do not have basic needs taken care of.  They take volunteers, they NEED volunteers, so if you speak Spanish and have educational or medical experience, let her know.  Again, http://www.ixcanaan.com.  They are trying to teach the Mayans to be good stewards of their rainforest and to create sound agricultural practices.  Seriously.  Do it.


After a short shopping trip, dad took and nap and I took a swim.  Anne had told us about an Italian restaurant (really!) down the road, so we walked the 450 meters the sign said.  More like 2 miles.  The food was only ok.  We should have known better.  The guy was indeed from Italy, but he had no local competition and no real impetus to make his food really good.  So it was ok.


On the way home, we notice a soccer game in a field, with a horse grazing in the middle.  The ball does not seem to bother the horse and the horse does not seem to bother the players.  OK.


We try to hire a cab back to Flores, but no one seems to speak English (for, like, the 12th time dad says, “We need to get a dictionary…” ok, WHERE?).  We go to the restaurant with the angry mother and biting bird and ask a guy (in really crappy Spanish) if we can get a taxi.  We pay him for a driver he promises will show up in the morning.  As a mater of fact, we are short the cash (we don’t have change for our big bills) and he says it is fine if we pay him in the morning.  We hope for the best and head off to bed.


Day 4 – 7/14/07


We get up early to meet our taxi…we hope.  It is there and so is the guy we bought it from!  We get to the airport and have some breakfast.  We notice we have just a few Quetzales left and we are going to have to find an ATM.  What did we spend our money on?  Oh, right…WATER.


We get to Guatemala City and find an ATM and a guy who tells us where to catch a bus to Santiago Atitlan.  Now, we are hoping it’s a large comfy bus…at least, from my Lonely Planet that is the impression I get.  HA.


First of all, we get dropped off in terrifying bus chaos in the middle of dirty Guatemala City.  Our taxi driver finds our bus to Santiago, but we are hoping, against all odds, there is a better bus.  I had said I wanted to take a chicken bus, but I was really kidding.  But here I am.  The “porter” grabs dads bag and begins to walk.  Dad is still talking to someone, so I have my hand on the bag as well and I am pulling toward myself.  He kind of drags me along, laughing (he is laughing, I am decidedly NOT) and when dad gives me the ok, I finally let go.  I think the porter got a big kick out of that.  Our bus is a brightly painted old Blue Bird school bus.  No bathroom and we guess, no stops on the way.  We leave and the porter guy is hanging out the open door, announcing where we are headed every time the bus stops.  Often, he jumps off as is it moving and if no one wants to get on, he jumps back on the moving bus.


A preacher has joined us and is preaching in the aisle.  When he finishes, he touched each of our heads and prays for us, and then he sits down and gets off when the bus stops.  People on the bus have also given him Quetzales.  At each stop, someone opens the back door or comes on the front or yells into the window to sell snacks and drinks.  It is utter chaos.  There is no limit to the amount of people that can get on and no limit to the stops.


The bus doesn’t always stop for men.  Often they just swing on, but it always stops for women.  The driver drives like a bat out of hell and for over an hour we are 6 people across two seats.


The only thing that truly angers me: people pitch all garbage out the window with not a care in the world.


We stop in the center of Santiago Atitlan (YAY!) and meet Juan, our cab driver.  Juan is driving a three-wheel scooter with a top.  He drops us off at Hotel Bambu and gives us his number.  After check-in and lunch in another beautiful hotel, we call Juan to take us into town.  He drives us to the church, which was built in 1527, although it is plain.  There are wooden statues of many saints and every year they get new clothes made by the locals.  We read a plaque to find out that the army assassinated the Father of the church around 1981, during the many years of civil war.  Once out of the church, we explain to Juan that we need a dictionary.  We drive to a little “shop” with paper and office supplies.  No luck.  We find a SECOND such shop with a dictionary.  SCORE!  It goes into use IMMEDIATELY.


We ask Juan to take us sightseeing.  We drive around (we have picked up some local girl he knows who is helping him out) past the lake near Posada Atitlan.  The hotel of choice, apparently.  We see women washing clothes in the lake.  He also takes us to the martyrs’ monument.  In November of 1990, a group of Santiago Atitlan villagers were protesting kidnappings by the military.  It was, apparently, a peaceful demonstration, but the military drove out of the gates and mowed down 13 villages, including a kid who was my age (born in 1977).  At the monument are two little girls, just sweet and can be and they say, shyly, “Quetzals?”  Dad has one for each, and they give him this HUGE grin.  They seem to be sisters about 2 and 4.


We head home, but have dinner at a local place where the guacamole is great (avocado’s harvested from the lake shore) and so are the plantains.


Once again, we hit the hay early.


Day 5 – 7/15/07


There is a massive storm overnight and it leaves the area quite chilly, but lovely.  We have breakfast and call Juan to go shopping. 


We wander around the market, marveling at the gorgeous handmade textiles.  We buy gifts and take a million photos of the market and the church.  We head back to the hotel where we have lunch.


After lunch, Juan takes us to Maximon, the local god.  The Spanish missionaries were quite smart; they incorporated local gods into the Catholic religion as saints or other minor prophets.  I have a feeling Maximon does not QUITE qualify, but he is worshipped.  Offerings are 2 Quetzales entry (for tourists) and rum and cigarettes.  His “guards” have been partaking of the offering because they are all three sheets to the wind.  Absolutely hilarious.


Juan takes us to the lakeshore where we take a launch to Panajachel to catch a mini-bus to Guatemala City.  The chicken bus was fun…once.  Twice might be too much.  The ride across the lake is amazing and gorgeous and not as cold as I thought it might be.  We get to the other side; get a taxi to the mini-bus stop only to discover...no more mini-buses for the day.  Dad says, “shit” and I am thinking much worse.  But, HEY! We are in luck as a chicken bus is going to be here in 10 minutes!


This time, the chicken bus has CHICKENS on it, and dad’s bag is somewhere behind a seat and I am sure we will die as it is raining and there are no windshield wipers.  AWESOME.  Instead, the porter dude is sticking his head out the door, watching for traffic or oncoming cars, etc.  I feel MUCH better.  Not really.  I read and listen to my iPod.  I figure that if I am about to die, I’d know, and I don’t feel like I am about to die.  I hope I am not wrong.


We get to Guatemala City in the middle of a huge rain, the bus drops us off nowhere near where we left and we get in a cab and go to Tikal Futura, a big hotel.  We are meeting Juan Carlos there.  Juan Carlos is a guy I met on www.couchsurfing.com.  It is a community of travelers who either offer a couch to sleep on or find a couch to sleep on.  No guarantee he is not an ax murderer, except I have had a few conversations with him on the phone.  Not that it really is a filtering process.  Juan meets us and takes us to dinner…well, we take him, but he drives and it is the first nice car we have been in.  After dinner, he drives us on a short tour around Guatemala City, which is big and bustling, but has some nice parts.  He then drops us off at our hotel (the same one from the first night).  Our trip is over.  We will wake up early, again, and hop a place back to Florida.

I never thought just me and my dad would be such a great trip, but we had an amazing time and Guatemala is so vibrant.  Next time, we will go to Antigua, although I do want to hit all the villages around Lago Atitlan sometime.

Tags: 30th birthday, family, guatemala, milky way, santiago atitlan, spanish, tikal, traveling

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