July 14, 2002 Antigua, Guatemala

(Click here for corresponding map of Guatemala)

Last week when I left off I was in San Ignacio, Belize (1 on map) having a "slow" day. I have done so much since that I decided I will make the format of this day-by-day, but the date I write it will always be at the top, as well as where it is written.

Monday, July 8

I went on a canoe and rafting trip in the Barton Creek Cave. It was an excursion trip so there were 6 of us and a guide. The cave is an old Mayan cave, and now has water all the way through it. We went on a dirt road in the back of a pickup for about an hour through some scenic farmland into the jungle. When we arrived we unloaded the canoes and began our way into the cave. The water was very calm so the guide did all the paddling so we could take pics and enjoy. It was amazing!! All sorts of formations and crystallization's from the water. Lots of colors! We saw tons of bats, and they nose-dived at us. We had a spotlight hooked up to a car battery to find our way and we went in about a mile at a very slow pace. Our guide was fabulous, and knew all about the area. We went through some very narrow passages and saw a few skulls and bones, as well as pottery shards--all supposedly Mayan. When we got to the end of the cave, we left the boats and each got on an inner tube to float back out. I was hesitant, but when I saw how calm the water was I decided to go ahead. We all actually had to paddle with our hands, as the water wasn´t THAT calm! The guide followed in the canoe with the light, so at times it was shadowed or dark. Kinda spooky. The ride out was shorter, and I ended up with a major case of rubber burns on my inner arms. Then the long bumpy ride back!

Spent the rest of the day exploring the town, and relaxing on the hotel balcony.

Tuesday, July 9

This was our last day in San Ignacio as Martina and I decided to move on to Guatemala soon. She signed up for a trip to some far away ruins, so I spent the day at a nearby site, Xunantunich (Shoo-san-too-neech) (2 on map). I took the local bus to a ferry and then walked up a huge hill. Of course just as I was at the top I finally got offered a ride. The ruins were nice, small site, but had some wonderful carvings at the top. Climbed the main tower for a view into Guatemala. Spent the remainder of the day purchasing things I forgot or knew I would run out of. We packed and went to bed early.

Wednesday, July 10

On Wednesday morning, we left early on a bus for the border town. Our goal for today was to get to Tikal and hope to find a place to stay in the park. At the border town, we took a "collective" taxi to the border and went through with relative ease. On the other side we again took a taxi to the next town to get a bus. That started our day of waiting. We had to wait about 1 1\2 hours for the bus. Even though we were close to the border, the sites and smells were different in Guatemala than in Belize. Roads were not as nice, poverty more visible, clothing much more colorful.

Finally we boarded the bus--a beat up dirty old Greyhound. We rode about 2 hours to a junction town called El Cruce. It was just that--a junction in the road. We had 2 choices in the morning. We could have gone on to Flores where were assured accommodations and would have to shuttle to the site the next day, or go ahead to the park and hope to find somewhere to sleep. We opted for the latter, and got off at that junction at the advice of our guide book. There was nowhere to sit but on the side of the road on our bags, no shade, and only a few cars going by. We did see a few tourist shuttles, but none stopped. At this point it was only about 10:30 am but too late, maybe, to find a ride to Tikal that day. After asking a few locals we discovered that there would be a bus by at 3:00. Finally at about noon a shuttle driver stopped and took us on to the entrance of the park. You have to pay at the entrance, before getting to the hotels and camping area. Now another dilemma: Do we go ahead and pay for that day and again the next so we could proceed to the hotels, or do we wait until 3:00 when we would only have to pay once for the 2 days? Of course, we decided to wait. Practiced Spanish with the gate guys, tried to stay dry in the intermittent rains, and soon other travelers arrived. All we know was that was a camping area but we had no equipment, and there were supposedly some "dorm beds" for $10.00 US. Finally at 3:00 we paid and got a ride in with all the other backpackers. They were all camping, and we did get two beds at the lodge, in a cute hut with a grass roof.

This area is all jungle, and so, so, so hot! Our reason for wanting to sleep in the park itself was to see the sunset and sunrise from atop one of the towers. We rested a bit and started into the park. I figured the towers were right there, just inside the trees. Not so. We had to walk about an hour into the jungle on a dirt path to get to the main area. We did not make it to the tower we wanted for sunset, but when we reached the first 2 towers, it was all worth it!! I have never seen anything like this!! Tikal (3 on map) is a huge Mayan city, now completely surrounded by jungle.

The park closed early so we left. There was only 3 hours of electricity that evening which pretty much guaranteed going to bed early to get up before sunrise.

Thursday, July 11

We woke at 5 am to the sounds of birds, howler monkeys, other jungle sounds. We had to dress by flashlight and at 6 went into the park. The sun had just started coming up as we entered so we saw plenty of animals. Anteaters, monkeys, toucans and tons of other birds, a fox, and the tail of a big cat. This was really the jungle!! The towers were magnificent this early--we climbed tower one, the famous one you see on anything related to Tikal. Walked around and then went to tower 4, the highest. Tower 4 is taller than the tops of the jungle trees, and we were over the clouds!! we spent 6 hours exploring the site. I can´t even begin to describe this place, but will never forget the Mayan city in the jungle. A bit of history: Tikal was first settled by the Mayan in 700 BC, and was completely built by 200 BC. It is awesome to climb these structures that are so ancient and to only imagine the ceremonies and rites that took place here. Walking between areas meant walking in jungle with little direct sunlight, and all the smells and sounds. Amazing!

We wandered the site until about noon, then went out to pack and have a leisurely lunch. We took an afternoon shuttle van to our next destination, Flores (4 on map). Flores is a town on an island in the lake Peten Itza and is connected to the town of Santa Elena by a causeway. Most tourists visiting Tikal stay in Flores as it is easier to get a shuttle from there instead of the way we did it.

We checked into our hotel, walked around a bit, and fell asleep early.

Friday, July 12

We walked around Flores today to take pictures. It´s nice, but very touristy, not much like the rest of Guatemala. About mid afternoon Martina and I lost each other as we ran from a serious rain storm-lightening, thunder, the whole bit. Later in the day we walked over the causeway to Santa Elena to purchase some things. It was noisy, dirty, smelled like exhaust and cooking fires. Men and women were setting up to cook and sell street food. We had to go to the local bus station to figure out fares, and that´s when I really realized that my Spanish skills need some real help!

I had arranged to take an express bus to my next destination and it was a night time bus. I figured it would be all tourists and was really debating taking the local bus, but this was a local bus, there were only about 4 of us backpackers on it. It was sad to say good-bye to Martina as we got quite close. When you are together constantly and making major decisions together it´s hard not to become good friends quickly. Anyway, the bus left at 10:30 and went really fast all over the road. Thankfully I fell asleep as I always do in moving vehicles. The guy next to me kept falling on me, and I woke up for just about every turn in the road. I hadn´t changed out of my shorts as Flores was HOT, and I never expected the bus to have A\C or the driver to blast it. We arrived in Guatemala City (see map for Part 2) at 5:30 am, 1 hour ahead of schedule. I had also arranged for a shuttle van to Antigua and thankfully they were there! During this bus ride I had also had my first case of Montezuma´s revenge so I wasn´t feeling all that hot.

Saturday, July 13

The shuttle driver was also all over the road--seems to be the way it is here! Antigua (see map for Part 2) is an old colonial city in the mountains nestled between 3 volcanoes. As we went down the final hill into the city, it was breathtaking! Crumbling ruins, brightly painted homes with red tile roofs, and lots of flowers.

The shuttle driver asked me what hotel and it suddenly occurred to me that everything would be full since it was hours before check out time on a weekend. We went to the hotel that I had been recommended and the woman told me to come back at 11:00. I finally convinced her to let me at least leave my bag. I grabbed a jacket and left. I was dirty, smelly, tired and cold! Walked a bit and then went to sit in the park. The city was peaceful at this hour and quite pretty. Finally after 2 hours I could take no more and I headed to the hotel in hopes of at least of using the bathroom. Thankfully someone had checked out and I had a room. I crashed for a few hours and it felt wonderful!

Later I walked around to get my bearings and saw a few of the sites. This city is absolutely gorgeous and I could spend a week here and not see all there is to see. In the afternoon there was a rainstorm that lasted all night so I went to bed early. I had chosen this particular hotel because I heard that they had a great roof deck and had looked forward to sitting up there.

Sunday, July 14

Saw a few of the churches and church ruins today. The streets are all ankle-twisting cobble stone and there are many hidden places to see here! Can´t really describe it all so you will have to wait for the pictures.

I did get a chance to relax on the roof today and the views were beautiful! I took a book up there for about an hour, then took a break from reading to look around a bit. I glanced down at what appeared to be a drain hole of some sort and noticed three long black legs of something. I quietly took a better look and saw that it was a big hairy spider, the size of my fist. I took my book and left quietly. No more roof deck for me!! Yuck!

Went to dinner in the evening with a couple of other travelers from the hotel. I got to the place about 8:10 and ordered dinner and a beer. I was informed that they don´t serve beer after 8:00 on Sundays. WHAT?!? I must have landed in South Carolina! It was raining yet again so I walked around just a bit to see the church lit up and went back to spider hotel.

Monday, July 14

Today I did more exploring and went on a hike to this place on the hill with a big cross and great views. Checked out some ruins and a colonial home, and sat in the park awhile. There are some many Mayan men and women that come to the park to sell cloth and other items to tourists. If you so much as look, there will be about 15 people trying to sell to you. They all load up in busses at the end of the day and go back to the mountain villages, only to repeat this the next day. They are quite funny actually--I was looking and trying to bargain and when I told one woman that I didn´t have any money, she said she takes VISA card!! I did end up buying a couple of pretty pieces.

The money here is called Quetzales (Ket-zal-ees) and it´s about 7.50 Q to one dollar. It´s incredibly cheap here--most hotels are about $5.00, spiders included.

I am staying here one more day, then going to the Lake Atitlan area and to the largest market in Guatemala next Sunday. Today I booked a sailboat trip for later in July to sail from a town on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala to Honduras. Should be fun!

Please continue to send e-mails, but no jokes or downloads. I do check mail about every other day or so and like to see mail there.

Love you all!!