Travel tip of the day: Be prepared for anything. By this I mainly mean crazy drivers, “boats” that carry cars although they are not fit to, and fireworks/firecrackers. Be prepared for things to be different than they are at home; that’s what travel is all about.
On Monday, our group arrived in Guatemala and drove right to the city of Antigua, which is about an hour outside of Guatemala City. Although it seems to be overrun with tourists at times (especially New Years), Antigua is a beautiful colonial city surrounded by volcanoes. It was the original capital of Guatemala before the capital was moved to the current capital of Guatemala City. When we first arrived, we checked in to our hostel, put our stuff down and went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Yes, Italian, not ‘Guatemalan.’ Just like in the United States, or many other countries, there is a huge influx of different foods from all over the world, and not too many “authentic Guatemalan” restaurants as some would say. I think this came as a surprise to some people in our group; we are more alike and interconnected than we might think. After dinner, I went back to the hostel to take a nap (I was running on about 1.5 hours of sleep) while Gabby and some of the other girls went shopping because Gabby’s luggage was lost. That night, we went to the park to watch the fireworks, however we ended up dodging the fireworks and firecrackers as well.
The following morning we walked around Antigua taking pictures and shopping. This being my second trip to Antigua, I didn’t take too many pictures because honestly, most things looked the same as last year. Around 2pm we got in a van to go to Semuc Champey, which is a Park about 8hours from Antigua in the middle of nowhere. At first we thought that we would be the only people in the van, however we soon found out that we had to share with about 8other people because we were on a budget. The van was cramped, but I had a window seat so I was fine! We arrived in Lanquin (the town closest to the Semuc Champey park) around 10 or 11pm, and went to sleep almost as soon as we checked in.
The day after checking into the hostel in Lanquin, we took a shuttle to the Semuc Champey park. By shuttle, I mean a pickup truck, and of course I decided to ride in the back. Although I have done this before, this ride was special because of the condition of the road, to which there is no comparison. It was steep, rocky, and the driver was going 1,000 mph but incredibly fun and adventurous! Although the park is only about 9 kilometers (about 5.5 miles) it took us about 45 minutes to drive to the park because of the condition of the roads. When we finally arrived, Emily and I went swimming immediately while the rest of the group hiked up to the overlook. Simply put, Semuc Champey is a natural feature in which the river passes under a land bridge and some of the water comes to the surface of the land bridge and forms clear blue pools. I’ll post pictures when I figure out how. Contrary to last year, some of the park was closed off and there were “lifeguards” although we’re not really sure of their skills. After swimming for a couple hours we changed and ate lunch at a nearby hostel. During lunch we were talking about an episode of the TV show “Locked up abroad” that I had seen in which a guy decides to ride a motorcycle from California to Argentina and ends up getting kidnapped in Colombia. A couple minutes later another tourist named Ed (Lalo) introduced himself to us and said that he was riding his motorcycle from the United States to Argentina. It was very interesting to talk to him and he had very interesting perspectives on travel which we got on video for a school project that we are doing.
After lunch Katie and I went back to the park entrance to catch our shuttle back to Lanquin, however as soon as we passed the hostel where the rest of the group was, we realized that we had gotten on the wrong truck. Therefore, we hopped off that truck and quickly got onto the right truck with the rest of the group. Once we got back to our hostel we showered and hung out until dinner. After dinner we tried to make a bonfire but were not able to because it was so wet and humid. Upon returning to our room, one of my worst fears was realized; a cockroach in our room. We kept the door open, and the cockroach finally left, at which point I got to sleep.
Today we woke up around 6:30am and began our journey to Flores at 8am. Although it doesn’t look like a long journey on a map, it took us about 8-9 hours because of the landscape and the condition of the roads. Speed bumps are more common here because otherwise drivers would be even more crazy than they are with the speed bumps. This is when the travel advice in the beginning of this post comes in. Conditions in the van were certainly not ideal; it was hot, cramped and we had some mechanical problems which were fixed quickly, however other passenger’s complaining only made things worse and really annoyed me. At one point we pulled over and I thought at first that it was a police checkpoint, however it ended up only being a checkpoint for fruit to make sure that we weren’t bringing any bugs into Peten province. We finally arrived at our hostel around 4 or 5pm and have been here ever since. Tomorrow we are going to the Mayan ruins at Tikal, which is exciting because unlike the other ruins I’ve been to you are allowed to climb the ruins!
Today I finally got to climb Mayan Ruins! I have been to Mayan ruins in Mexico which were cool, but you’re not allowed to climb on them, so when I found out that climbing is allowed on some structures at Tikal I was very excited. Instead of taking a formal tour, we went with Farah’s cousins, Oscar and Calvin (I think) who live near Flores and know a lot about Tikal. (Farah is Emily’s cousin’s girlfriend.) We drove a pickup truck, and of course I choose to ride in the back. Whenever possible, I try to ride in the back of pickup trucks here because it’s fun and not exactly legal in the US. On the way to the park we passed lots of villages made up of mostly indigenous people which was interesting to see because they were so much different than everything else we have seen on this trip. After about 45 minutes we arrived at Tikal and started walking. First we saw the Ceiba tree which is the national tree of Guatemala. We walked for a couple more minutes and stumbled upon the Jaguar temple and after that the Acropolis del Norte which is where the wealthier people lived. Around that area there were replicas of houses that the not-so-wealthy people lived. Although we were not allowed to climb the Jaguar temple we could climb around and explore the acropolis and it seemed that everywhere I looked there were more ruins in the distance to explore. Due to restoration/previous accidents the only actual temple that you’re allowed to climb is temple four, and even at that, you have to use to wooden stairs to the side, because the original stairs are not safe enough to climb. Regardless of the fact that we weren’t exactly able to climb it the Mayan way, being at the top was scary enough!
After climbing temple four, we went to the ruins of the Mundo Perdido (lost world), which was described by Farah and her cousins as the “Las Vegas of the Mayans.” Finally we got to the last temple which was featured in the music video for the song “Fuiste Tu” by Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona. Because there have been a couple deaths from people falling from that temple, you’re no longer allowed to climb it. On our way out it started pouring (rain in the rainforest, imagine that), but i still wanted to sit in the back of the truck so we bought plastic ponchos and headed back to Flores.
Saturday was supposed to be our last day in Flores before going back to Guatemala City on an overnight bus, however the bus company messed up our reservation and as it turns out, we won’t be able to leave until Sunday night (tonight). We slept in for the first time on this trip and then went swimming in the lake with Farah’s cousin Oscar, and again I rode in the back of the pickup truck! Although Flores is an island city, we drove to another town with a better swimming area and a water park that we didn’t go to. We taught Oscar how to play Marco Polo and played that until we decided to find a place for lunch. By the time we were finished with lunch it was around 4pm so we decided to drive back to Flores, which took about 45 minutes. Because our bus reservation got messed up, Emily and I walked around Flores to find another hostel because our previous hostel was booked for saturday night. We finally found one that is clean and cheap, and decided to stay the night.
Today we woke up early to firecrackers and fireworks, a not-so-subtle reminder that three kings day is celebrated more in Latin America than in the US. Because our bus to Guatemala City doesn’t leave until 9pm or so, we’re thinking of doing some souvenir shopping in Flores today, however we have yet to leave the hostel. Looking forward to a 9 hour bus ride tonight…
It’s hard to believe that we only have a day and a half left in Guatemala! Here’s how the week has been
On sunday night, we had one last dinner with Farah’s cousins in Flores and then boarded an overnight bus bound for Guatemala City. Although it was the most luxurious transportation we have taken in Guatemala, I’m not sure I slept that night. We arrived in Guatemala City around 5am and Wilmar (Emily’s cousin) came to pick us up at the bus terminal, and took us back to his house where we all napped for a couple of hours. Around 10am we drove to another bus terminal and got on a chicken bus headed in the direction of a beach town called Monterrico. The first part of the chicken bus ride wasn’t bad-no chickens and not as many people. Then we stopped at another bus terminal. The driver kept packing on more people and just when I thought no one else could fit…more people got on! Still not chickens though. About an hour later we got off the chicken bus and got into yet another van that took us to Monterrico. We got here and checked into our hotel and found out that not only do we have our own pool, we are right on the beach! It is the most luxurious accommodation we have had on this trip! (but also the most expensive of course.) We spent the rest of the day alternating between the beach and the pool.
Tuesday morning we all woke up ridiculously early to take a sunrise tour of the mangroves here in Monterrico. We took a canoe-like boat around the mangroves as to not disturb the wildlife, although there were fishing boats and boat taxis that used motors. At one point we stopped to watch the sunrise, which was beautiful. One of the most beautiful landscapes for me was the view of the volcanoes in the background, especially in the early-morning light. Although I have been in other places where you can see mountains from a different climate, it never ceases to amaze me, probably because in the United States the beach/warm areas and the mountains are in two distinct areas. Because it was still incredibly early after we returned from the mangroves (around 7:30am) we made pancakes for breakfast and slept for a couple hours. After breakfast/nap time we went to the beach and although I was starting to feel somewhat sick, I swam in the ocean and the pool. Since we were up early, the entire day was basically spent swimming and relaxing. Later in the afternoon we walked down the beach to a local conservatory that helps re-populate sea turtles. They care for sea turtle eggs at the conservation place, and once the eggs are hatched they are transferred to a pool temporarily. After a day or so, the baby sea turtles are released into the ocean, and after paying 10 quetzales (a little over $1) you are allowed to release a baby sea turtle! All of us except for Angel decided to pay to release our own sea turtle, and it was amazing! Mine was squirmy, and I dropped it twice, but it made it to the ocean, and I hope it’s still alive!
After saving baby sea turtles we ate dinner at our hotel and went to bed early because we were very tired after a long day of relaxing. (Ok, this mainly refers to me, and I was starting to get sick.)
At the last minute we decided to stay in Monterrico one more day, so instead of leaving on Tuesday to go to Emily’s grandparent’s house, we stayed the night in Monterrico. Because I went to bed so early last night, I was able to get up early and go for one last swim in the ocean which thankfully was not as rough as some of the
others were. After swimming, I packed and worked on this blog, although the internet cut out and some of what I had written had been erased. Around 2pm Emily’s Tia Evelia and a driver came to pick us up and take us to El Chupadero, which is the town where Emily’s family lives and the school that we sponsor. To our relief we were the only people in the van so it was very spacious and we each had about two seats. After a couple hours we arrived at Emily’s grandparent’s house and had dinner. Again, we were tired to we went to bed early to rest up for the long day ahead of us at the school.
On Thursday we woke up around 7:30am or so, and were at the school by 9am to meet the kids. Our original goal was to build a fence around the school to prevent robberies, however we did not raise enough money so we decided to help out with other projects around the school, such as the garden. The school decided to put in a garden around the perimeter of the courtyard and the line the garden with cement to keep some of the dust out. The garden was pretty much in place when we got there, so we helped mix the cement which was quite a difficult job. Once that job was taken over by some of the older students, our group played with the kids which was really fun. We played a game the I think is called cat and mouse, although I still don’t fully understand it. At the end of our visit the principle called everyone’s attention to us to thank us for all the work we’ve been doing to help the school, and it was nice to see how grateful everyone was. I’m not sure if some of the younger kids knew exactly what we were doing or why we were there, but they were really cute and loved talking and playing with us! Some even recognized me from last year! (ok, they were Emily’s cousins, but it was still cool!)
After returning to Emily’s grandparent’s house we ate lunch and took a nap because playing with kids outside in the hot sun all morning is exhausting. In the evening we went into town to buy a gift for her grandparents and school supplies for the kids at the school, and of course use the internet. Like many other instances in Guatemala, we rode in the back of her cousin’s pickup truck! After returning from town, we ate dinner with the family and one of the teacher’s from the local kindergarten. Lastly, we gave Emily’s grandparents their gift (flowers) and watched part of a telenovela with them, and I quickly remembered why I don’t watch telenovelas often, although watching other people’s reactions was very entertaining.
Sadly, today was our last day in Guatemala. We left for the airport around 9:30am and got there in plenty of time, and everything went smoothly. Another successful, adventure filled trip to Guatemala has ended, and I can’t wait until next time!
Back at Miami…
Today was our first day of class back at Miami! Therefore, it is time of reflect on the trip as a whole:
When we first landed in Guatemala City, someone in our group said something that made me think. They said that on the plane they were surprised at how developed the city on the ground looked, saying that it was nothing like the “third-world country” that they expected. They commented on the nice housing developments and other modernities of the city. As we left the developed world of cities behind and traveled to more rural areas and more humble accommodations, this same person was surprised at the stark contrast between the “two Guatemalas” we had seen; the urban, developed areas and the rural, underdeveloped areas. Throughout the trip this person tried to classify everything we saw or did into one thing or another (a natural tendency, but not always the correct one); developed or undeveloped, good or bad, though in my mind they always left something out regardless of their classification. To me, that is the beauty of Latin America; it is developING. Not completely developed nor completely underdeveloped. Not one thing or the other. Any attempt to generalize it omits some important aspect or opinion. In order to understand Latin America I think you need to have a great appreciation for the beautiful grey area- a mixture of different things where nothing is clear-cut.
During my Latin American Studies class today I could not help but think of my trip and the things I had experienced. The theme for today was the term “binary:” dividing the world into two things that are polar opposites and how this relates to Latin American Popular culture (the theme of the class). In class we came up with things such as “rich” and “poor” and “traditional” and “modern,” and very briefly discussed the fusion of these binaries. At first I thought the concept of “binary” was the opposite of my conclusions regarding the grey area and Latin America however after awhile I realized that this is exactly what I saw on this trip to Guatemala, especially the fusion of these binaries: two opposites being bound together to create a new, unique culture. In this case it happened to be development v. underdevelopment, or rich v. poor. Both were very evident on their own, however it is impossible to analyze the whole culture unless the blending of these polar opposites is taken into account, creating the Guatemala that I have grown to love over these past couple years.