Friday, February 28, 2014

Guat's up in Guatamala

Our first stop in Guatamala was a small town on Lake Atitlan called Panajachel. We got up early on the first morning for a run, and luckily I had my phone with me; the view we got is the one above, thanks to the trusty panoramic function on my HTC One. First day was a relax and wander day as we were both suffering from a cold that was going through the tour group. Day 2 was a trip on the lake visiting some of the towns that also share this lake.

In the town of Santiago we visited a home that was host to the Maximon (pronounced moshimon). This is a little dude that is looked after by a different family every year, as was the custom back in pre-Columbian Mayan times. The father and son have to give up work to look after him and make sure he is available 24/7 for visits by the townspeople, smoking and drinking. He actually 'smoked' while we were there, with the son lighting a new cigarette and tapping the ash into an ashtray when necessary;alcohol would be poured into a hole in his mouth. The room was beautifully decorated with different coloured sashes hanging from the ceiling.

This town also had spectacular spice markets lining the streets, while another town was more alternative, where you could see and learn about the different herbs being grown and buy products using them, like shampoos and hand creams.

From there we went to Antigua stopping at the famous market town Chichicastenenga on the way. Luckily for us today was market day, and it was a hive of activity. Everything from hammocks, food and flowers to live pigs, chickens and puppies and the usual souvenir products. We ran the gauntlet and then took a more leisurely stroll around some of the town's other interesting spots like the colourful cemetery, before running the gauntlet back to our bus.

In Antigua we were only an hour away from the very active Pacaya Volcano. Even though we were still not feeling our best we could not pass up the opportunity to climb an active volcano. It was quite a steep hike up with some locals following with horses should you find the hike too difficult. We made it about half way, but as we were still struggling with our colds we shared a horse the rest of the way. The last section had to be done on foot as we took a trail around the more accessible parts near the top of the volcano.

The ground was hot and smoke was coming out of the top and in several cracks down the side. We could not get to the lip though as it is too dangerous; people have died from the ground collapsing underneath them. Elizabeth got in a hole in the ground that acted like a natural sauna and she did not want to get out. Everybody had moved on by the time I dragged her out. A loud bang made us look up while we were there and we saw a plume go up from one of Guatamala's other two active volcanoes. We should rename our trip Michael and Elizabeth's volcano adventure as the volcanoes we have hiked now number four, but this was the most active.

Tapado, the local speciality

Then onward to the river town of Rio Dulce, where we spent a wonderful night in a resort on an island and then took a river trip in the morning to Livingston seeing all the marvellous wildlife and the locals that still live along its shores. Lots of young children on very rickety primitive little wood canoes would paddle out to say hello. We stopped for lunch at Livingston where Elizabeth and I sampled their local specialty, Tapado (a seafood coconut soup with a whole fish in it), that took over an hour to make. You order then go for a walk and come back.

For scale one of our tour group
is standing in front.
Once we got back to the resort it was straight on the boat with our packs and across to the mainland to board a bus to an overnight stay in Flores and then an early start to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. These ruins, like Palenque, are tucked within a thick forest setting and the sounds of howler monkeys were heard regularly. To me they sounded more like lions roaring, the sound is quite imposing. Tikal is spread across a huge area with many of the ruins just mounds in the forest as they were reclaimed by nature a long time ago. It made me wonder if thousands of years from now we will be uncovered by the next civilisation curious also at how a once unbeatable civilisation fell to ruin. This site was the location for the rebel base in the first Star Wars movie, 'A New Hope'.

So ended our busy and eventful introduction to Guatemala as we went from there straight into Belize.

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