six (?) to go!
03.23.2009 - 04.17.2009
We're just winding up our second week in Costa Rica and heading to Ecuador day after tomorrow; that means that you and I have the rest of Guatemala AND Costa Rica to catch up on! There's lots to say and many a picture to upload, but in a nutshell, it's been a blast! Check it out....
Our last full weekend in San Pedro la Laguna was perhaps my favorite weekend during our three weeks there, and not only because it was my birthday weekend. Namely, I LOVE that weekend because we got to kayak right up to los pelicanos gigantes! It was waaaaay cool! Not to mention, the water was beautiful, even though we had to paddle against the wind both ways. Go figure. First, we spent some time paddling in the reeds, then we went to visit the pelicans! That last one didn't like how close I got, but how cool to see that wingspan up close! And the next one nearly took Tara's hat off - can you see it? After kayaking Saturday, we spent Sunday tooling around San Marcos, the sleepy, meditative town across the lake. It was very, very quiet there and obvious as to why there are so many meditation, yoga and massage centers there. We saw beautiful adobe walls , great views from a cliffside path , and picturesque boats parked on the shore of the lake (Tara's best and favoritest picture yet).
We spent our last "work" week in San Pedro with our Spanish teacher Estella, getting to know San Pedro even better and exploring the lake, as well as the other little pueblos that line its shores. Here's a local kid hanging out by his corn (he told me it was ALL his). We also saw a woman selling an entire, huge, living turkey at the local market in town. She's on the right, holding the turkey by the wings. One of our classes with Estella consisted of a (long) walk to the next town (San Juan), while we practiced our Spanish, discussing politics and Estella's plan for Tara to return to Guatemala some day to buy land and start a farm. We also saw a dog with dreadlocks on our way to San Juan - just like the expats that dot the lakeside! Here's Estella and me near the dock in San Juan and us with Estella on our last day of class. That Estella, she's a keeper! She even inspired us to study every day, and we did so, at our favorite little spot in San Pedro, "La Puerta".
After saying our goodbyes to our host family, including Cecelia and her daughter, Ruth, we took a shuttle and then a bus to the other side of the country to check out the Caribbean side of Guatemala. We started out in Rio Dulce, a town that sits where the river meets Lake Isabel (like you, Izzy!), then quickly headed to a tributary of the main river to stay at Finca Tatin (Tatin Ranch). We had our own little cabana in the middle of the rain forest, complete with giant bugs, towering trees, humidity, insects, kayaks, lots of hammocks and a rope swing into the river! Tara and I took a kayak ride to a biological reserve, in vain hopes of spotting a manatee, but we did get up close to Tara's favorite plant: the lily pad as well as a tiger heron (right, Ruth?)
After many a beer in hammocks on lazy rainy rain forest days and multiple swings into the river, we took a boat to Livingston, a Caribbean/Guatemalan town where Rio Dulce empties into the Caribbean. The town was entirely fascinating, as there was a glaring culture clash between the Maya, the Garufina (the Caribbean Black community), and the tourists. It was definitely a party town, and we were happy to sneak back to our quiet hotel up the beach after some Garufina stew and a walk down the bar-lined, beach side streets . We were especially happy to help our hosts at the hotel cuddle with the new puppies! Only 10 days old! While we loved the puppies, we didn't exactly love the spiders. But we still laugh about it. We got back to our hotel and Tara, being the first one in the room, made a U-turn, saying, "I don't know WHO is going to deal with THAT" pointing to a ginormous spider. My response, "It's just a wall spider..." I have to admit that I jumped back pretty far as it squirmed its way out of the glass I caught it in....
We thought we were going to catch a boat and a bus on Good Friday to head up to Tikal, but alas, buses don't run on Good Friday in Guatemala. Nothing does, really. But the good side of that blunder was that we met up with Laura, a new med school grad, who we spent the next 3 days with. Here we are, trying to manage a cayuco, the local form of transportation on Rio Dulce . We make it look easy with our self-portrait and beer in hand, but we had many a close call with the badly balanced boat. It's hard to imagine how the locals pull up nets full of seafood without flipping over.
Next: Tikal. What an amazing place! And that these ancient Maya people built it all by hand. Not carts, no tractors, just stone by stone, carried on their backs up hundreds of feet up stairs at an incredible incline. That last one was sooooo steep, they had to build a ladder next the temple. The best part, some guy started "fixing" the ladder with a hammer and some nails AFTER we got back down (which wasn't easy). Seriously crazy. We also had our best animal sighting day yet in Tikal, complete with Toucanets , a toucan , two spider and two howler monkeys. The howlers look like black blobs in this video, but you can sure hear them! The clearer, closer caller is actually our guide - the howlers have lower, raspy voices that respond to our guides calls and claps.
Again, way cool!
Our next reeeeeaaaaalllllly long shuttle ride included sharing a little ferry with a big semi , but landed us just east of Lanquin and at the gates of Semuc Champey, an amazing network of natural pools that float atop a 300m limestone shelf that shelters a rushing, gushing river. The pools are perfectly turquoise and ideal for swimming. This is where the real adventure travel started! We began our big day at 10 am with a relaxing float down the river on inner tubes, but don't let that fool you! On the way back up the hill, some of us jumped off the yellow bridge near our lodging. Yeehaw! Then we headed STRAIGHT up for 25 minutes to reach el mirador (the lookout) where we could see the pools from a breathtaking height. Proof of how hard, and hot, and humid, the walk was: and the reward for such hard work: We then headed BACK down the mountain to check out where the shelf starts and the river rushes under the pools, then to jump IN the pools, which were of the clearest water I've ever seen in a river, then to more adventure! Our guide took us downriver by way of swimming across each pool, then jumping or diving into the next, until we got to a *small* rock cliff that we had to repel to get down to our next jumping point. Like I said, no helmets, no harness, just a rope and very strong Guatemalan... Following another dive into the water, we climbed UP a waterfall and crawled under the limestone shelf just to climb down a hole barely big enough for us to squeeze into to climb further into the cave behind the waterfall. But that's just the beginning when it comes to caves because then we headed to a whole 'nother set of caves to explore them by candlelight! That's right, AND we had to swim 75% of the time, as well as climb up rope ladders and squeeze between limestone walls. Needless to say, it was our favorite day. Ever. Oh, and we made another new friend!
Finally, we made it back to Antigua, our last stop in Guatemala. We had actually driven through twice already on our way to other destinations, but spent a couple of days recuperating, shopping and getting laundry done. It's a cute, quaint little town, and understandably, super touristy. But it was a good stop before heading to Costa Rica! We were also very entertained by the way Antiguans mark wheelchair accessibility as well as motorcycle parking...
Okay, I don't know about you, but I need a break. Costa Rica will have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks for hanging all the way through Guatemala - I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
L & T