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Guatemala Part 2: Need More Time

GUATEMALA | Sunday, 5 June 2011 | Views [1281]

Toucan!

Toucan!

We enjoyed San Pedro la Laguna and were learning so much Spanish, we decided another week was in order. It was a great time – our host family excellent, the location relaxing and idyllic, we met some new friends, it felt like home (that there were five people from Perth from around 12 students did nothing to harm this). Our Spanish, still a long way from even decent, is at least much better, and with some practise should improve. It was sad leaving our host family and friends in San Pedro, but we’d already stayed an extra week, and it was time to move.  

Little Lorenzo - the youngest of 3 kids in our homestay at Lago de Atitlan. Cheeky one too.

Both Bron and I had a terrible time on the drive to Antigua from San Pedro. We were both incredibly hungover from our leaving drinks, and the drive was a collection of sharp switchbacks, speed-bumps, rough roads and heat. Antigua was pretty – it’s surrounded by volcanoes, has lots of nice old Spanish-styled buildings, cobbled streets and a cool, relaxed feel. As the old capital, there are lots of old churches, but most are in a state of semi-ruin following civil war and earthquakes. The couple that have been restored are amongst the best churches we’ve seen in Central America so far.

Whilst in Antigua, we hiked up Volcan Pacaya. Until an eruption 12 months ago, there was lava on the volcano where you could roast marshmallows – not any more unfortunately, although the eruption left a lot of fascinating rocks close to the summit, and there are still lots of hot vents. There were 10 people or so on our hike, from a range of backpackers. Given the hikes reputation for fairly regular banditary, we were alarmed when two slightly overweight middle aged Americans turned up to the hike wearing a couple of thousand dollars of jewellery on their hands, and clothes you might wear to dinner rather than, say, climb a volcano. Compared to our previous hikes, this one was pretty easy, only an hour or so to the top. Still, there are locals all the way up trying to hire horses out to anyone undertaking the hike, and a few people within the group took the offer up. There were some great views and a couple of small eruptions whilst we were hiking, so it was a decent hike, but not a must do.

Volcana Pacaya - no longer with open lava for roasting marshmallows =(

From Antigua, we headed to Semuc Champey – both Bron and I agree this is one of the most beautiful places we’ve been to in Guatemala. The area is formed where a river is diverted underground – an impressive sight in itself. There are then a series of connected beautiful pools forming a limestone bridge over the river, filled with fish that will nibble on your toes if you stand still, with steep cliffs rising up high above the pools on each side. Each is connected by a series of waterfalls you can slide down, shower under and jump off of. It was gorgeous and we wished we could spend all day there, but in the afternoon we were booked in for a tour through the Kamba Caves.

The pools up close

The Kamba Caves were unlike anything I’ve done before – walking and swimming through caves by candlelight. The caves extend for about 11km, and we got maybe 1500m in – there were some fun scrambles, chutes, waterfalls and rock jumps too. Candlelight  is an interesting way to go through caves, but it can be disconcerting seeing how quickly it burns down!

We would have loved an extra day in the pools in Semuc Champey, but instead we were off to Flores to do the Tikal ruins. There had been some pretty gruesome murders just near Flores a week or so before (27 ranch workers beheaded), so we hadn’t been positive about heading there, but after talking to people from the area, we decided it was worth the trip. The trip was not fun – the 8 hour trip took 11 hours thanks to the driver stopping every 30 minutes to run personal errands, food or fuel stops and the strangest quarantine stop I’ve ever had (we all clambered out of the car, stood for 5 minutes waiting for someone to search the packs which never happened, before clambering back into the shuttle) all the time cramped in the back of a people-mover. Our moods were improved in Flores by the nice fresh breeze and a delicious dinner from a restaurant serving traditional Mayan food.

We got the bus at 4am to Tikal, and were the first people at the ruin site when it opened (thanks to the murders it wasn’t that busy – almost more army personal than tourists, including a Humvee with a large mounted machine gun. It was definitely worth getting in early – we were rewarded with howler monkeys in the trees, grey foxes, toucans, woodpeckers, coati and a heap of other animals, as well as the ruins to ourselves. Although the frieze work isn’t as impressive as some of the other Mayan ruins we’d been to, I think these were my favourite ruins. In restoring the site, virtually all the vegetation around the buildings has been left intact. From the tallest few temples, you climb above the canopy of the jungle and just the tops of the other tall temples can be seen sticking above the canopy – an incredible sight. The site has the most animals, and all you can hear all day are howler monkey cries and bird calls. We got lucky with our day weather-wise too – all along we’d been hearing people talk about how hot it was, but it wasn’t too bad on our day; the breeze was strong enough to take the edge off.

View from Temple 4, the biggest of the lot

Our last stop in Guatemala was Livingston, via a gorgeous river trip down from Rio Dulce. The boat meandered down the river, with jungle covered cliffs on each side, and heron and pelicans flying across the river. Livingston isn’t connected to the rest of Guatemala by road, and was originally populated by Garifuna – former African slaves, dumped by the British after rebelling. The civil war in Guatemala that killed around 250,000 people never reached Livingston (one local explained that they refused to sign the peace accords because it was a stupid war, and that they’d never been involved), but it meant a lot of Guatemalans fled to there, meaning the Garifuna are now being displaced by the Mayan settlers. Livingston was relaxed, and an interesting place, but there wasn’t a whole heap to do, and the local beaches are either covered in mangrove or too polluted to swim, so it ended up being dominated by relaxation time and planning.

Both Bron and I fell in love with Guatemala. The people are incredibly friends, there are loads of amazing natural attractions and hikes and some beautiful towns. There is so much here we never got to do, we’re already talking about coming back in the future.  

Tags: guatemala, ruins, volcanoes

 

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