Thursday, April 5, 2012

Incoming are the last few pictures that never got posted. Any of you who happen to read this, please enjoy. Hard to believe we've been back for a month+ and counting, and it hardly feels like we left at this point!

Thanks for reading about all of our travels, and hope to see you again soon!

For the final time,

Hacienda Tijax, Rio Dulce 

Copan, Honduras




Women washing- final day in Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Church


Antigua church

 Posted here, not in chronological order with the last post, are the pictures that finally came through... helps to be using an English internet again.

Thank you again!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Enjoy this barrage of pictures! For some reason they're not coming through. I'll post more later if I can.





Travel Week, February 17-25th, 2012

Travel Week is my title for the week we were traveling between several cities and ruins- Antigua, our 'base', Copan Ruinas, (Honduras), Rio Dulce, Flores, and Tikal, (Guatemala). Here is my day-by-day account, written as we experienced it, for you to read as you choose. Copied word for word, the present tense isn't accurate- check the date of the section. It was present that day. :)

WARNING: it might be kind of... long. Enjoy!

February 17th, 2012

We were only three hours late.


We left Antigua this afternoon for Copan Ruinas, after just enough tmie to see all the old places we liked and feel like we hadn't been there in forever, but also like we hadn't left.

We chose to leave Antigua at 1:00 PM as opposed to 4:00 AM because:

a) we didn't have to get up at an insane hour
b) we'd be driving during daylight, so we'd see scenery
c) we'd arrive at 7:00PM after six hours, still with enough light- the big reason.

Here's what REALLY happened.

The shuttle was half an hour late. That's not a big deal or even remotely a problem except that 7:30 PM was half an hour later which turned into...

... THEN, we detoured into Guatemala City. Why? To spend an hour picking and strapping to the roof of the shuttle a Very Mysterious Large, Intimidating... green barrel. Following that, we had to drop off some guy apparently not going to Copan, which took another hour to find his stop.

By the time we actually got going we were three hours behind schedule. Thus, we recently arrived in Copan at ten.

The ride. Besides being completely full, after we got going was decent... but what do you consider a highway?

My close-minded brain says frimly, highway: six lane monstrosity full of vehicles. Loud. Avoid when you (meaning me) start to drive.

But the road between Guatemala and Honduras, after a certain point, is comfortably narrow in width, washed out in places, and through the middle of no-where. Despite preferring it to the how-fast-can-we-go highways, in the dark it was like, WHOA- wherearewewho'southereamIbeingparanoid?

Then we got to the border crossing. The only border crossing I've ever done by land is U.S. to Canada. I seem to recall handing passports through the car window, stamp the passports, on the way. It was also during the day, and on my definition of a highway.

Guatemala-Honduras was fun in a different way. Pulling up in the dark to a building lined with police cars. Immediately, flashlights clicked into the darkness and scanned the inside of the van. It felt sort of Sound-of-Music-y, but they felt no need, thankfully, to send us on our way via police escort.

Next came the passport stamping, paper filling-out, and currency exchange, quetzales to lempiras. I kept thinking the Honduras currency was 'limpets.'

Manana, the first Mayan ruisn, those of Copan. Inhabited since at least 1400 B.C.E., making it, in my book, very old.

Although it is not known for great temples or pyramids, it is known as the best sight for preserved and intricate detail art.


February 18th, 2012
Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Out of all the places we've visited so far, Copan is my favorite. It's the first place I've liked right away, not just because it was nice after being crammed into a shuttle for eight hours. It feels safe, touristy but not TOO touristy, small but not quiet, clean, pretty, and tonight, Saturday night, Central Park was full of people and lively music.

But of course my favorite part is the fact that Maya ruins are half a mile away.

Pictures and seeing are two different things. Who knew what Copan really looked like? Reading in the guidebook about 'Stela E' and 'Altar Q'...

... a stela is a sort of statue, totem pole, egyptian tomb. The first thing we saw upon the entrance to Copan was a garden of stelae with traces of red paint standing imposingly on a soccer field. The 'soccer field' was similar to an actual present day soccer field on in the close-cropped grass and size. Well, that, and the fact that much of the grass was an old ball court.

It is a mystery to me how the Maya played ball in their courts, but the most, ah, interesting part about it was that players were sacrificed. Winning players, that is. It is commonly thought, including by me, that it was a punishment for the losing side to be sacrificed (and maybe that was sometimes the case) but instead I read that it was an honor for the winners. Lovely walking over sacrificial places- but through a city where people actually lived, 2000 years ago.

Probably the most well-studied, viewed, and photographed in Copan is the hieroglyphic staircase. 63 stairs high, mounting another pyramid, and lined with some 2000 glyphs, they (I couldn't read them) apparently tell the history of Copan city, the longest series of glyphs in the Maya world.

Interesting also for the birds, a family of semi-domesticated scarlet macaws and wild yellow-tailed birds darting near the central plaza, it's hard to imagine anything could top Copan. Tomorrow, though, it's another six hour ride to Rio Dulce. Slightly east of Lago de Izabal, and slightly west of the Caribbean coast, there are no nearby Mayan sites, but it's a stop-off for Tikal, another four hours north. Thus, tomorrow we conclude our short stay in Honduras, and head back into Guatemala.


February 19th, 2012

How far does ironic go before it becomes creepy? We're unconsciously following the Guatemalan tourist route, and along the way one comes to recognize fellow travelers.
For example:
-Crossing into Honduras, a man on our shuttle discovered a connection with another guy from a different shuttle. They had met in Prague. Crossing out, we saw the second guy and his group again.
-On the shuttle, at the Copan ruins, and all the way to Rio Dulce, we unintentionally followed another traveling couple.
-Now in Rio Dulce at a hotel accessible by boat, where rooms are bungalows on a boardwalk and one eats under a thatched roof, a family I recognize from eating at the same cafe as us six weeks ago in Antigua, is staying there as well.


Second class buses are underrated. Nicer and less expensive than a shuttle and safer than a chicken bus, the easiest ride of our trip was in one today. Tomorrow, on our way to Flores, we'll take one again.

The hotel is lovely. Set just back from the river at the mouth Lake Izabal, raised boardwalks from a maze of pathways over wetland-y ground. Lining the boardwalks are tiny bungalows, looking back on a smaller river, with canopies of mosquito netting inside. Swinging brides, and injured and being rehabilitated iguana, a jungly pool... well my opion of this spot on Rio Dulce is high.

Sadly but excitingly, we're off again tomorrow. Flores, and Tikal.


February 20th, 2012
Flores, Peten, Guatemala

I'm starting to wonder what's under every hill.

After visiting Copan, I've seen that trees can grow on a pyramid and a pyramid can look like a hill. Thus, for four hours between Rio Dulce and Flores, I was oogling every hill for ruins. Realistically, there's no chance. But one can pretend.

Prior to leaving for Flores at threeish, arriving sevenish, we had great plans that all cheerfully blew away with the time. Therefore the day was quieter, swimming, and an attempted kayak trip.

Attempted. We got several hundred yards into theh river when my parents kayak started to sink. The point of a kayak without a plug is a mystery to me.

Flores is a townon an island in Lake Peten Itza, in Peten, Guatemala. Founded as early as possibly the 13th century, the original inhabitants were outcasts from Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan. Considering Copan was founded B.C.E., the Yucatan cities are extremely new. The ex-Itza's built a city of Maya style on the island, but it was completely destroyed by the Spanish.

So dude, we're living on the ruins of a Mayan city.


February 21st, 2012

Copan had stelae. Yaxha has pyramids. So it depends- do you go for impressively intricate or impressively imposingly, HUGE?

I go for imposingly huge.
Therefore i must admit that Yaxha is my prefered site so far, though we've only seen two and I wouldn't have missed Copan for anything.

An  hour east of Flores, the ancient city of Yaxha sits beside two crocodile inhabited lakes. Still relatively unknown, excavation began some seven years ago after Survivor, Guatemala, hosted their show, for the better or worse, among the ruins.

Smaller than Tikal, supposedly- we hit Tikal tomorrow (!), in every direction stood still-covered pyramids looking like extremely suspicious hills. One of the largest pyramids was still completely covered. A platform on the top gave great views, but the real impressivenesses were the largest temple, accessible only by a recently constructed wooden staircase to the top, and another set of three temples/pyramids visible from the top of the tallest, as well as a panoramic view of both the lakes.

The plaza of the three pyramids visible from the height of the tallest temple may have been shorter, but was for me more impressive and either amazing well-preserved, restored, or both. At the head of the plaza, the tallest had steps barely straight enough to make it to the top. Advice- don't look down. At the very top of the existing summit, the tallest temple (sorry for the overuse of the words 'pyramid' and 'temple' but the true names weren't displayed) was visible sticking out of the jungle. As far as one could see, it was just the expanse of jungle, jungle, and more jungle, seen from a bird's eye view.

And then there was the wildlife. At hotel Hacienda Tijax in Rio Dulce, we were incredibly lucky to see blue morpho butterflies cruising by, as well as a very brave hummingbird just camped in a nest several feet from the swimming pool. At Yaxha, however, we were fortunate to come across a band of coatis, a bunch of playful spider monkeys who put on a complimentary show of acrobats. It looked fun. I wouldn't mind being a monkey some time. :)

And then the howling of howler monkeys. It's not exactly a howl, though, and startled us half to death and then spurred the: 'what is that making that noise is it a jaguar or, oh dear, we'renear the lake, is that a crocodile and if so shall we get a move on because I really don't fancy getting consumed today' thought, until a smirking guard told us they were howler monkeys. I didn't feel so wonderfully smart and worldly after that.

In total we saw maybe six other people at Yaxha, including three guards. Complete contrast to what we'll experience in Tikal tomorrow, I'm sure.

We're spending the mayan new year at Tiakl. Whoa. Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the start of the last year of the old era, the era the Maya lived in. Funny, that we're spending it at a Mayan site.

Happy New Year's eve... again!


February 22nd, 2012
Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

In our first ten minutes in our bungalow, which was second story in the jungle, and with a porch, we saw:

  • half a dozen small toucans
  • orioles
  • large gray birds (that sounded scientific)
  • 3 ocelated turkies
  • moquitoes, and
  • two monkeys, a third monkey with a baby.
And hiking around, a toucan, a real toucan, a tiny dear, and those listed above. From the top of Tikal's Temple IV (four) green birds squawked and soared as far as we could see, the jungle borken only by the crowns of four other temples and one pyramid.

I cannot believe we're at Tikal. Each archaeological site has been better than the previous, so far, making Tikal the crowning thrill. The city, first of all, is huge. Secondly, you can see the steps of archaeological process.

Will all the temples and pyramids be uncovered? I don't know. There is talk of eventually covering the ruins back up. As a thought, will futuristic humans later uncover present day cities? Seattle? Boston? New york? Will they look at the space needle and try to decipher our purpose for it, or the Statue of Liberty, Boston skyscrapers? Will they look at our cities and say: 'Imagine building that back when they had only cranes, planes, etc.?' Or try to find the other half of interpretive 'no parking' signs? I wonder.


February 23rd, 2012

Thanks to an early morning guided tour to the see the fog rise from Temple IV (the sun was sleeping late) that required us to have a great time freezing while staring into fog, hearing birds call as the jungle woke up at the top of a Mayan temple at five in the morning, and that was not sarcasm, seriously, here are some things we learned.

  • The oldest temple/structure in Tikal was built before Christ
  • The Maya built over other structures. In Copan they built over a full color temple. In Tikal, they build layers of pyramids on top of each other.
  • The difference between a pyramid and a temple- a pyramid is flat on top with stairs on all four sides, used only for astronomical purposes. A temple has a high crest and only one flight of stairs.
  • Tikal was abandoned because of drought, like most if not all cities in Peten.
  • As I said, Maya cities on the Yucatan are younger. It is speculated that people from Tikal (and Copan) moved to the Yucatan to build sites like Chichen Itza after the drought. Why they abandoned those too, I don't know.
  • The Maya orginated from Asia. It is supposed that they crossed over today's Bering Strait and traveled down to Central America.
  • Mayans really did set up their temples astronomically. At Uaxactun, a nearby site, prounced vaguely like 'Washington' but more like 'Wa- Shack- Toon' the solstice sun comes up through the window of a structure. At Tikal, different temples point due North, south, east, and west.
Unfortunately, after so much anticipation, Tikal is over. However, the most impressive thing I've ever seen, I have full intentions to visit other ruins... soon. :)


February 24th, 2012

Here's where it pays to be perceptive.

Since we got to Flores we've stayed in the Green World Hotel, besides one night in Tikal. Fitting to it's name, the walls, beds, curtains, towels, and outsides are different shades of limey green. From a teeny balcony is a lake view, picturing two small islands and a tiny distance across the lake to San Miguel, another town. Above San Miguel rises a large hill, right in the main line of view from said balcony.

First of all, there is a treehouse on top of the hill. None of us noticed it until we climbed the tree-house-on-the-hill-above-San-Miguel today.

Besides great view of the treehouse entitled 'El Mirador,' the hill is an old pyramid- Mayan, buried beneath the jungle in the ruins of Tayazal.

SPECIFY: do not go now and google 'El Mirador, Guatemala' which is probably something I would do. You'll come up with a five day hike to the largest known Mayan temple. This El Mirador is, I repeat, part of a tiny site called Tayazal. Someday, I'll make it (can dream) to the real El Mirador.

Not that I can recommend the walk to this El Mirador either.

Guidebook says: 'short walk'
The guidbook is right. HOWEVER, if you manage not to get off at the suggested place it becomes a couple hour cross country trek (I'm exaggerating) through the jungle, along roads that fall into 'suggested to avoid' but public tourist safety standards.

Of course after we got there, we found a three minute walk out to catch a boat to a local 'playa,' beach, with Caribbean looking water, thatched huts, and limestone.

I like Peten. However, tomorrow morning it's an excitingly anticipated eight hour drive to Guatemala city then Antigua. Yay?

But still, nice too, to get back to familiar country, but from there it's only three more nights until we're back in Los Estados Unidos. How hard to believe that the time's snuck up like that.


February 25th, 2012

I thought if anything was going to be a problem, it would be getting from Flores to Guatemala City.

Yes, I was wrong.

Flores to Guatemala City was a breeze. It went by quickly for an eight hour trip in a bus, and the bus didn't have any major or noticeable problems.

Upon the decision of taking a taxi or shutle to Antigua, the more logical option was a taxi. Cheaper, more comfortable, and in worse shape. After plowing through the city traffic, halfway to Antigua is an up-a-mountain drive.

Halfway up the mountain, the taxi broke down.

Keep in mind that it was completely dark, we were on a highway with sharp corners every few hundred yards, no shoulder, and speeding people. Fortunately the taxi started again...
...only to stop 50 feet up the hill, roll backwards, and go inching up again in front of impatient and zooming drivers. We probably made it another mile before, six miles from Antigua, it shut down for good.

Several minutes after freezing on the side of a highway while the driver fiddled helplessly as cars continued to honk and whiz by, ht eblessing of police chose that moment to, without knowledge of our predicament, drive by.

So we paid the driver for taking us halfway up the hill and rode in the back of a plice pick-up on top of comfortable construction cones and underneath bads in the dark for a couple of miles to another town, where the police found (after a lot of staring from local people living in the town of San Lucas) a faulty bad-looking and sounding pick-up to take us to Antigua.

Hey- we made it. And it's fun to ride in the back of pick-up trucks along highways...

So why don't we always travel like this?


February 26th, 2012

Imagine: tight cobblestone streets packed with indigenous people carrying brightly colored bundles, small children, squeezing into stalls full of masks, textiles, clothing, and flowers. More people are swarming between them burning sweet incense, sending black smoke into the clouds and dampness overhead. The incense leads a procession, adding feathers and more colors to the packed street. They're heading for the church to celebrate the first day of Lent, the steps of which make selling grounds and a traffic lane for people teetering above the crowd holding flowers, calling wares, waving weavings, building fires. In the blurry haze of smoke, which more people shoving as they follow the surging band of peple towards the church steps, churchbells clang their metallic voices as a drum beats in the background.

That was one of, if not the, biggest market/s in Central America. The name famed town of Chichicastenango, the once solely indigenous market has become touristerized, and now sends buslouds of such people like us pounding in on Thursdays and Sundays- market days.

We've seen plenty of markets now, but this is probably as close as we'll ever come to a typical Guatemalan-highland market. How these people make and sell things for a living, I have no idea. It was certainly a good almost-end to our trip, in a different sort of cultural way.


February 27th, 2012

El ultimo dia. Adios en la manana, Guatemala, hola Estado Unidos. Can't wait to see you all!!!


Birthday shout-outs to three people who I could talk to without internet. Lucy, on the 23rd, Ella, on the 24th, and Gabe, on the 25th. Hope you all had great days. :)


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Expand Antigua. Move it to Europe. Throw in a bunch of Greek, German and Guatemalan fusion architecture.

That's Xela.

Find us on the map in the highlands as Quetzaltenango, (Xela is the abbreviated Mayan name), it's finally dawned on me just how nice San Pedro was. Xela is very nice too, but it's very obviously a city. I like cities, but after the friendly, moving-but-not-busy San Pedro, it's a bit of a shock. You don't just walk around town anymore and greet everyone, nor can you cross the city in twenty minutes. Busy, modern, and with few dogs and no tuktuks (sad. You have to get run over by cars instead) it reminds me more of the pace of Antigua.

We arrived on Monday after a shuttle ride including complimentary serenading of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. Joy. Leaving tomorrow, this makes it our shortest stay in any place yet.

Yesterday was a trip to Fuentes Georginas hot springs, which put us so high in elevation, that we were in the clouds. That's interesting- being at 8,000+ feet makes the clouds seem closer - it looked like you could reach up and touch them.

Today was a visit to three nearby pueblos- San Andres Xecul, San Cristobal, and Salcaja. San Andres Xecul is home to the world's weirdest church. It was painted white at one time, but in recent decades was painted a bright yellow base (after school buses), and then the ornate animals, cartwheeling angels, jaguar heads, and random flowers were painted the primary hues of chicken buses.

Further up the hills of San Andres Xecul a smaller version of the church is used for Mayan ceremonies. While still the bright yellow, the less busy and eye-catching pattern allows one to drag their eyes away and stare out over the valley at that first church, decidedly out of place in the sea of gray buildings. Atop many roofs, however, skeins of freshly dyed yarns dry and add color.

In San Cristobal was a converted convent and the second oldest church in Guatemala. Plain white but just as pretty, it was huge. Certainly the largest church I've ever seen.

Salcaja, a few minutes away, housed not only the oldest church in Guatemala but the oldest church in Central America. Open only on Saturdays for morning mass, we somehow managed a Wednesday entrance. Good connections? Drapes of lace and a delicate altar, it became my new favorite church in Guatemala, and believe me when I say we've seen a lot of churches.

Tomorrow- back to the beginning, AKA Antigua, for one night, enough time to abandon all of our stuff*, before the traveling begins. In the order of Copan, Honduras, up to Tikal, Guatemala, and if we have time, Caracol, Belize.

It's hard to believe that ten weeks ago I wrote 'and towards the end of our trip, what I'm looking forward to most- Tikal.' Now here approaches both the end of the trip and Tikal... where does time go?

Hasta el proximo fin de semana,

*Including the computer! No blog posts next week.

Last day in San Pedro: me painting the lake

Fusion architecture?

Parque Central, Xela

Celebrate Valetine's day with pink limonadas

My dad and I at the hot springs... we're in a cloud

San Andres Xecul. Weird- yes or no?

The small version

This doesn't stand out, does it?

Guatemala library

Second oldest church in Guatemala...

And the convent.

Oldest church in Central America


And inside.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Here's what I'll miss about San Pedro:

  • The view of the lake, seeing the sunrise and the whistling fishermen, ferry boats, and weird birds that go 'SHRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!' whenever they think it's too quiet.
  • Cafe La Puerta. Yes, a restaurant. On Saturdays we can get breakfast in the 'lakeside palapas' that look like they're in the middle of a jungle... it's fun to eat breakfast under thatched roof, though the best part is the chocolate banana peanut butter mono loco (crazy monkey) smoothies... besides the other great food... I feel like I'm writing a guidebook.
  • Our teachers Vilma and Magdalena, who patiently taught us Spanish for two weeks. Sweet, funny, smart- only good things to say about them. They even found our stupid jokes funny.
  • All the dogs. We've given names to the ones we know best: Black Dog, because he's black, Foxy Dog, because he looks like a fox, and Pink Dog, because he's pink. No kidding- it took us a while to figure out that he rolled in brick-colored dust everyday (he lives in a construction shop) and turned his white fur pink.
  • Weaving. In Guatemala you can find scarves for a lot less expensive than at home. However, after spending two days setting up and eight hours over four days weaving, you realize that a plainly striped scarf isn't easy. Well it probably gets easier, but when I finally finished my scarf yesterday, I admit I was pretty proud of myself. :)
  • Swimming. Fine, fine, we only swam once, off the neighboring town of San Marcos, but it was FUN, swimming over a once-explosive-giant-volcanic-crater.
  • Tuktuk jams. Where else does it happen that when a truck unloading pavers is parked in the center of a narrow street, three tuktuks, four men with wheelbarrows, two bicyclists, several boys carrying cement bags, and two innocent (me and my mom) pedestrians all trying to get by going different directions?
  • The beach in front of the school. Have you ever seen freshwater snails? I hadn't, but this beach is covered, almost littered with amazingly colored shells... it's also a beach where local families wash their clothes.
  • Corazon Maya- the school. Besides weaving and besides taking SPanish, last week there was a traditional Mayan ceremony there. The ceremony was in the local Mayan dialect, Tz'utujil, and we were interested to find that were able to understand the gist of the ceremony (it helped that he explained it beforehand in Spanish) even in another language. The most impressive part was the thunder in the background.
          And then yesterday was a tamale dinner for teachers and students. I can't brag about helping prepare it (it was really good, but here's a hint: don't think that because a chile pepper is small it's not spicy) because I was off finishing my weaving... guilty. This is my rave review for Corazon Maya- if you come to Guatemala, we all recommend it there.

Next stop Xela: the second largest city in Guatemala.


Swimming in Lake Atitlan

The lake's come up so high that here's a flooded dock

Coffee processing

This church in Santiago Atitlan was built in the 1500's

The chickens... have to ride the boat too



Mountains in the sunrise


Looking back off the beach in front of the school. Onions in the foreground!

View from our cabana, where we studied

Cafe La Puerta- is that a cool table or what?

Making tamales. Yes, you will just have to turn sideways.