Guatemala Parte I

Before we were even in Guatemala, I felt like we were. As our passports were being checked by the Belizean immigration to exit the country, Guatemalans were sticking their hands through the cracks in the walls asking us to hire them as drivers or use them as money changers. It’s a good thing that my initial introduction to the country was not an indication of what our time there would be like.

We drove in a small bus packed with other gringos from the border to the city of Flores, in the northern part of Guatemala that juts into Mexico. Flores is actually an island that lies in the middle of the second biggest lake in Guatemala. According to Lonely Planet, 30,000 people live there, but you can run around the outer most edge in about 8 minutes without trying hard, so I don’t think that’s possible.

We stayed on the top floor of a hotel that had unbeatable views of the lake and the sunset in the evening. Within the first five minutes of being there we were driven out onto our terrace by a commotion in the street below. To our delight, a lively parade was happening, complete with a band, costumed people dancing, and bystanders lighting off firecrackers. Finally, we discovered it was just New Year’s parades that continued throughout our stay there.

The first full day we were in Flores we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at a cafe called Cool Beans. They had good food, great coffee, and a wonderful garden, complete with several chickens who were more than happy to peck at my left over toast.

We walked across the bridge from Flores into Santa Elena. The two are essentially the same city, just separated by the short bridge. We walked through the central market, but our search for fruit was met with stall after stall of clothing and knock-off belts that were somewhat difficult to distinguish due to the throngs if people squeezed into a tight area to avoid getting run over by chicken buses.

Zak enjoyed lunch at Pollo Campero, Guatemala’s version of KFC (which he claims is much better). Apparently they have a franchise in Maryland. Who knew? We spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out how to get to Tikal the next day before going on a hot and sweaty run around the island.

The next morning, we headed out of our hotel before 6am to wait for our shuttle to the ruins. In typical Guatemalan fashion, it showed up a few minutes passed six thirty. Having now been to 4 Mayan ruins on this trip (more to come), I can easily say that Tikal is my favorite and definitely the most impressive.

Walking through muddy paths through the jungle is also the best approach of any of the ruins. The Tikal complex is so huge and there were so many walking paths, that we hardly ran in to other tourists, making it feel like your own unique experience, and allowing your mind to run wild with thoughts about what it would have been like to have lived there as a Mayan. In a few hours we were able to see and explore most of he complex. The Grand Plaza is stunning, as is the view from the top of Temple IV, which provides a breathtaking view of the temples of the grand plaza rising out over top of the jungle’s canopy. Equally as breathtaking is the climb up to the top of Temple IV, consisting of several staircases up the backside of the temple.

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and the Mayan People have certainly left their mark in this part of the globe. It is hard to imagine the time and labor it would take to produce those temples and buildings today, much less two thousand years ago when so much less technology was available.

Back in Flores later that evening, my mid run thoughts were focused on the Maya and how impressive the empire they built was and how little we still know about it.

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UnBelizeable

Whoops- so many fun things and frequent lack of wifi have gotten me way behind here!

After our time in Mexico, Zak and I headed down the along the coast and entered into Belize in the pouring rain. We took a chicken bus (old American school bus that has been painted all kinds of different colors) from the Mexican border town of Chetumal to Orangewalk, Belize.

Belize is a beautiful country, and it definitely has a different vibe than Mexico or any of the other Central American countries. This is probably because Belize was a long time British colony, gaining full independence only in the early 1980s. The official language there is English, thought many people speak Creole, giving it much more of a Caribbean feel, even inland.

Having just been at the beach, we decided to skip the Cayes to avoid higher prices and the well beaten tourist track. Instead we stayed in Orangewalk, a little town with probably the highest concentration of Chinese food restaurants I’ve seen anywhere. I’ll guiltily admit that we ate Chinese food both nights for dinner (it was yummy, cheap and veggie friendly).

We spent a day taking a boat tour up the New River to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai, which is a mistranslation meaning drowned insect. The ruins were beautiful, we saw several temples that had original masks on them. We also got to climb to the top of two of them, one was 33 meters high, for the most spectacular view of the river and the Belizean countryside. Those steps are terrifyingly steep, I’m not sure how the tiny Mayan priests and kings were able to climb them.

The boat ride down the river was also a great part of the day, as we got to see several monkeys, many different types of beautiful birds, iguanas, and even three crocodiles!

The next day, we left Orangewalk and headed to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, which is halfway between Orangewalk and Belize City. Our chicken bus was packed full of typiacl Belizeans and several families from their small, but economically vital Mennonite population.

The road to Crooked Tree leads out to the main highway, but is about 6km long. We were lucky enough to hitch a ride in the back of someone’s pickup for the majority of that distance. Upon arriving, we were greeted by two enthusiastic men working at the visitors center who pointed out a cheap place for us to stay and gave us a map that looked like it had been drawn on Microsoft Paint.

We spent the better part of the morning walking around the little village that is there, in search if the family run restaurant that is the only restaurant separate from a hotel there. Instead e stumbled upon one of the more expensive lodges, but were too hungry to care at that point. In the afternoon we enjoyed hiking around some of the trails, watching and listening to the birds in the trees and on the lagoon. The Crooked Tree is famous for all the birds there, and it did not disappoint. It was beautiful and tranquil, and we were undoubtedly the only tourists there that day.

Although Crooked Tree is beautiful, I wouldn’t recommend staying there for more than a day because you might go crazy. Early the next morning we made the trek back out to the highway so we could get a bus to Belize City and west into Guatemala.

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Let’s Go Down to Mexico

It’s been nearly a week since I commenced my trek through Central America and tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving.

Akumal is where I’ve spent the last 5 days and it is a gorgeous spot about an hour south of Cancun. We just been taking it pretty easy here, mostly reading and hanging out on the beach. We went snorkeling in a nearby lagoon one morning where we were lucky enough to see a stingray. Yesterday we visited the beautiful and impressive Mayan ruins in nearby Tulum. Other than that we’ve been jogging most mornings, petting lots of cute local puppies, eating delicious fish and preparing for our next move. This place is beautiful and I would definitely come back, but I am excited about what lies ahead.

Tomorrow we will board a bus to Chetumal, a town on the Mexican side of the Belize/Mexico border, where we will then transfer buses and head into Belize towards Orange Walk. Once there we hope to check out the Mayan ruins at Lamanai and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.

Stay posted for more to come.

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