A Travellerspoint blog

Guatemala

WALKING ACROSS BORDERS

TAKING THE SHORT BUS IN BELIZE

sunny 30 °C

With a much shorter journey on our plate, we were able to sleep in a little, relax, drink the wonderful Guatemalan coffee and explore the island of Flores. We both woke shortly after seven and took our time having breakfast overlooking the waterfront. There is nothing nicer that sitting outside on a beautiful day, overlooking the water and drinking perfect coffee. We then headed off for a walk around the very small colourful island. The architecture is almost like Antigua but on steroids. Sadly, it is slowing sinking and some roads were impassable. It was incredibly hot and humid so we decide to hire one of the little boats and drivers to take us around the island by water. It was really lovely and relaxing.

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At 10 am we met in the lobby and headed out for our two hour drive to the Belize border. The crossing was pretty simple since our guides took all our passports in for our Guatemalan exits stamps and then we simply walked across into Belize. I think that is a first….walking across a border.

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Welcome to beautiful Belize! It might sound a little crazy but things felt instantly different here. A slight breeze came up, keeping me cool and not so disgustingly sweaty, and even on our short 20 minute drive to our hotel in San Ignacio, the landscape seemed different. I know I shouldn’t judge too quickly and perhaps it is just this town but it seems a little less developed here which came as a bit of a surprise. Maybe the bigger surprise was the Guatemala was more developed than expected. Our guide has told us that Belize is very relaxed. That was also immediately evident when our ride from the border was a little late and when this bus pulled up with a true dude who reminded us to relax a few times.

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What was there to worry about? We had perfect transportation riding in luxury with reminders to “buckle up” even if there were no seat belts on board.

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After grabbing some lunch we watched a presentation on the options for tomorrow and settled on a plan. Once everyone was sorted out, most of us took taxis into the town to swim in the river. The weather was perfect today. Warm and breezy. Still it was refreshing to swim in such a beautiful environment. Sadly there are no pictures because we were afraid of leaving cameras on the shore. I really wanted my camera in the local fruit and vegetable market because it was so colourful. We may have time to go back tomorrow.

It was a really nice and relaxing day and after some time to chill we went to the hotel restaurant for drinks and dinner. There maybe one thing nicer than coffee in the morning. I think drinking the best mojitos EVER while a warm breeze blows on you might win the prize.

Our hotel

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Oh, and they speak English here although I find myself trying to insert a scattered Spanish word here and there and use my best travel sign language even when communicating in my mother tongue,

Posted by curlygirl 21:39 Archived in Guatemala Tagged g belize adventures flores Comments (0)

TIKAL ME ELMO......

NOT SO FUNNY WHEN YOU HAVE ANTS IN YOUR SHOES

overcast 30 °C

Greetings from Flores, Guatemala and our final stop before crossing into Belize tomorrow. We have had an incredibly long but rewarding day traveling and visiting Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.

Our day started with a 6:30 departure where we all piled into the boat and back to our van. It should be noted that I am so committed to my blog that I am included all these terrible pictures of myself in never before seen tank tops (ugh!). We were all very discouraged by the weather as we headed off on our four hour journey to the ancient Mayan site. The rain barely let up the entire drive and we couldn’t imagine having to trek through these enormous ruins in the rain. Andrew, our guide encouraged us not to give up as the rains often stop and clear as quickly as they start. We were only 20 minutes from the site when the skies cleared and made way for a spectacular afternoon. I am taking some credit for that because I have been incredible lucky since purchasing my super dooper rain poncho and not yet needing to take it out of the original packaging. I even lugged it around with me out of superstition and that lucky poncho did not let me down. Although it wasn't terribly hot the humidity was brutal and I was soaked by the time I got home.

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We had an amazing guide Migal who was very passionate about the 30+ years he had spent guiding in Tikal. Tikal is an UNESCO world heritage site that originally had more than 3000 structures and the city of Tikal covers more than 16 square kms. During our five hour visit, we were able to climb both the highest temple and one with the most amazing view of the plaza area.

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Did you know Guatemala means land of many trees? We certainly saw why today since there are more than 300 varieties of trees in the park. It is the largest tropical rainforest in Guatemala and Central America. It also has 333 species of birds, 54 mammals and 38 species of snakes. We saw the fruit loop bird. Actually two different types of Toucans. Amazing!

Our final supper in Guatemala was a real adventure. We went to a restaurant that serves local traditional food. Nothing that the Bailey’s wouldn’t try. Several of us ordered different dishes so we could share. Gayle had the local fish. I had wild boar and was able to try Armadillo and some large rodent. Not bad but no need to look up how to import any of those.

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Fortunately we encountered less dangerous creatures today although Gayle and I both, simultaneously while not standing near each other, got swarmed by small biting ants. As I was pulling off my sock to get the ones that had crawled inside out, I looked over to see Gayle with her shoe off. No one else got bitten. Talk about bonding. No ill effects from these bites.

We are both exhausted and need to get some rest so we will check in tomorrow from Belize.

Posted by curlygirl 22:33 Archived in Guatemala Tagged g adventures flores tikal Comments (5)

LIFE IN THE JUNGLE

A LONG DAY ON THE ROAD TO RIO DULCE

semi-overcast 32 °C

I am writing from the small marina at Rio Dulce over looking the river.

Our day started with a bang, literally. Well at least that was part of it. At about 4:30, the birds started in like a large chorus group chirping and tweeting relentlessly. Birds are lovely but it was a tad loud. It did however pale in comparison to the ringing of the church bells that started at 5 am and continued in 15 minute intervals. In between those chimes was the sound of bombs or canons going off continuously. This was something we have been experiencing ever since arriving in Antigua. When we asked our guide about it last night he explained that the reason was part of a religious celebration although he couldn’t say what it was but mostly that Guatemalans love blowing things up. Later they told us it was related to Corpus Christi although that should have been long passed.

After a nice breakfast and excellent cappuccino we head out at 8:30 for a very long drive here. Upon arrival, we all piled in a boat that was clearly meant for many less people and took a 2 minute ride across the river to our jungle lodge. It was long day and warm however we are both feeling pretty content in our peaceful surrounding. We immediately jumped in the pool, ordered drinks and stayed there right through the 30 minute down pouring of rain.

This is a cat sitting on a cash register where we had breakfast. They worked around him without disturbing.

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Just before dinner a couple of the girls showed up in the lobby with a picture of a scorpion that they found in their room. One of them politely asks me if I think it would be ok if they asked someone to remove it. Ah ya. They thought it was dead but it turns out it was alive. Scorpions in Guatemala are poisonous. Gayle and I are moderately petrified and are searching the room and zipping up our bags. Lesson learned Shirley. We are not at all concerned about the giant spider removed from one of the other rooms or the lizard that just ran across the ceiling.

We do not have internet so I am writing without expectation of posting until tomorrow.

Here are a few snaps of our little paradise.

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Here is Gayle in Scorpion terror

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Posted by curlygirl 18:54 Archived in Guatemala Comments (2)

GOATS IN A BOAT AND KILLER CAULIFLOUR

VISITING THE TOWNS ON LAKE ATITLAN

sunny 28 °C

We had both really wanted to see Lake Atitlan but really were not sure if we would have the time before getting here. After fitting in most of what we wanted to see here in Antigua we decide to investigate getting a day trip to the lake. The organized tours would not guarantee that we would get back in time for our meeting so we opted to arrange a private van and driver and travel in style. I am still experiencing the hangover from my luxury tour of East Africa and not ready to completely abandon a bit of special treatment.

Our day began at 6 am with a 2 hour and 15 minute drive to Panajachal on the Lake. We did stop midway for another wonderful breakfast and coffee. The fried plantains and the oatmeal were the best. Lake Atitlan is known to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and is the deepest in Central America. Atitlan means "at the water". It is incredibly blue and is shaped by deep escarpments which surround it and by three volcanoes to the south. Lake Atitlan is further characterized by towns and villages of the Maya people. We visited three of these towns in our own private boat with our own private driver. Would you expect any different?

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The first ride on the lake was amazing and relaxing. We traveled for about 30 minutes until we hit Santiago. We were only off the boat seconds when we are offered an island tour in a tuk tuk. Settling on a price ($15) proved to be a great idea as we quickly navigated the town and its highlights. Our first stop was to see the lady who (supposedly) posed for the face on the 25 centavos coin. They told us about her traditional headpiece explaining that less then 20 % of the woman still wear these. She demonstrated how to make it and allowed us to pose with our own.

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Next stop was to see where the ladies gather to do laundry. Each day hundreds of woman come to wash themselves (I was careful to avoid those photos) and their clothes in the lake. I can’t imagine how they get it all home because it must weigh a ton. The fabric in their clothing is thick and heavy. I was fascinated by this and would have been happiest if I was allowed to pull off my shoes and wade in and help. Not that I care to adopt such a method at home. They only use local aloe vera to wash as to not contaminate the pristine lake.

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From there we went to the Catholic Church where we sat through a service with joyful song. The town has a 45% catholic population. It was so beautiful to see the sea of colours in the clothing across the congregation. The priest, with the assist of two cheeky boys walked through the church blessing people but did an abrupt turn once he came to me. Could it be that I am beyond prayer?

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At this point the winds had come up so we took a very very bumpy ride across to the next town and my personal favourite San Antonio. I think the most striking thing about this town was the sea of blue clothing. This was the least touristy of the three islands and all the woman and girls were dressed in blue woven skirts and tops with sparkling ribbons in their hair. Sadly for me, they were very timid and discrete and most refused having their pictures taken which I had to respect. We simply wandered around this small town and made our way to the churches that we saw as we approached the town. Getting there took us right through the local living. I was hoping to speak to some school girls but they took off at the sight of me, or perhaps my camera.

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Another ice cream business, bell in his hand.

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The next town was Santa Caterina. As with all the towns the streets were filled with shops of woven goods. We decide to sit here for a bit, enjoy the view and a light lunch. I really must stop being a follower or else Gayle will get me in trouble. After our super hike yesterday she failed again today. Before our meal we were presented with a nice bowl of vegetables. Cauliflower and what appeared to be bell peppers. I assumed they may be marinated just not so sure in what. So immediately following Gayle, I popped a big piece of cauliflower in my mouth just seconds before she began gasping for air and thrashing about for beer. This had to be one of the hottest things we have ever eaten. Not sure how you infuse that much heat into an innocent vegetable but lesson learned. Stop following Gayle’s lead and beware of what you eat.

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We took a short boat ride back to our starting point. One of the neatest things along the way was seeing all the fishermen in the carved out boats. Some even had goats on board.

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We got back to Antigua at about 4:30 and had time to clean up before meeting our tour. Our new hotel is lovely. Surprising we are the only Canadians on the tour with the biggest mix of nationalities that I have encountered. We have a couple from New Zealand, who along with Janet from South Africa have saved me from being the oldest on the tour. We have a group of young Irish teachers, a couple from Australia and 4 others from England. After a nice supper we opted out of the bar hopping and came back to our room. Tomorrow we have a 7 hour drive to the north of Guatemala and the Jungle. Not sure about internet there but will check in if we can.

It was a really terrific day.

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Posted by curlygirl 20:17 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake g adventures antigua atitilan Comments (2)

SWOLLEN FEET AND ROASTED GRAPES

EXPLORING BEAUTIFUL ANTIGUA

sunny 30 °C

We are actually not in the hotel we expected because it was full and we were moved just down the road. The rooms are pretty basic, without air conditioning, but clean. We do have a lovely sitting area just outside and the grounds are gorgeous. We are moving to the planned hotel tomorrow for our last night in Antigua which looks a little nicer. We really don’t mind it all. Whew, Gayle has passed the “slumming it” test with flying colours. As promised, here a few pictures.

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We spent our day wandering, mostly aimlessly, around the cobblestone streets. The town has a really peaceful feel about it. Not a lot of people, but the locals are colorful and surprisingly few tourists. We felt completely safe everywhere we went.

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Although the streets all look very similar, tidy, colorful with amazing wooden doors, bright paint colors and window full of flowers, we barely got lost at all.

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We managed to see all the highlights. We started our day with an amazing breakfast. I had beans, eggs, salsa and avocado which were delicious. We also saw a strange parade which we assumed to be a parade of pageant winners. Lots of little girls propped up on the bonnet of cars. Yikes. We poked in and out of a few shops but made our way to the famous archway Santa Catalina. From there we stumbled on the Iglesia La Merced which we renamed the wedding cake church and the best landmark for finding our hotel. Gayle was charmed into her first purchase by this little girl.

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Our next task was to find the Cerro de la Cruz which sits atop the city providing an amazing view including 2 of the 3 volcanoes that overlook the city. Despite the obvious staircase providing a shortcut to the top, I listened to Gayle and followed the sign that we now know was meant for cars that lead us on a long, winding uphill climb. No harm in getting too much exercise when you want more avocados for breakfast.

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After taking the stairs down, we stop at a fruit vendor and share the most delicious super ripe mango. Shortly after, we ended up amongst the school kids who had just been dismissed for lunch. Many, along with their parents were fighting their way to this door way. I just had to go see what all the fuss was about. We discovered this lady with coolers filled with fresh fruit ice, or something in little bags and these yummy frozen bananas. They were 25 cents. I always say, if I could only have five foods, they would be, banana, chocolate, coconut, marshmallow and mango. The day ended with me only missing one of those. Of course, there is never any fear that I will go hungry on vacation.

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Our next stop was the old monastery, now hotel and museum, Santo Domingo. This place was amazing and was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. The ruins represent architecture from the Baroque period of ancestral America. The monastery can be traced back to 1538 when the Dominicans arrived in Guatemala. We saw the ruin of the crypt including a few bones. The grounds are amazing, with beautiful flowers, parrots and even a chocolate shop that provided the aforementioned coconut in the form of a truffle.

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It was pretty hot so we decided to sit and have a drink and make a plan for tomorrow. I had an avocado martini. Yup, I likes me avocados and might have to add a sixth to the essential food group.

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After setting up a tour for tomorrow we came back to the room to chill before enjoying an awesome meal at Hector’s. This restaurant was recommended by my guide from my Costa Rica trip. It did not disappoint. Gayle’s mahi mahi was good but my duck served over some wicked potato thing with a side of roasted grapes was to die for. I will be trying to do the grapes at home. It cost about $24 including wine.

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It has been a great start to our holiday and we have another busy day planned for tomorrow starting at 6 am so I best get this posted and get to bed and rest my swollen feet.

Isaac's Guatemalan competition.

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Cool masks

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Posted by curlygirl 19:10 Archived in Guatemala Tagged g adventures antigua Comments (3)

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