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2007 Guatemala

2007.10.11 Thursday

We arrive at Santa Elena in Guatemala just before 8.00 am. I am travelling with Michiko Sakata. We had set out at 5.30 pm the night before in Vancouver changing planes in Los Angeles and Guatemala City. It is warm and humid and smells like the tropics.

After some negotiation we arrange our ride to El Remate, a small village halfway between Flores and Tikal in mid morning and check into La Mansion del Pajaro Serpiente, a grand name for a few thatched roof bungalows on a hill above Lake Peter Itza. We are in the jungle in the northern lowlands of Guatemala. Having had little sleep we decide to leave our trip to Tikal until the next morning and enjoy a much appreciated rest and a relaxing day acclimatizing to the wet warmth of this ancient place, – the home of the Maya, a civilization at least three thousand years old.

2007.10.12 Friday

We are up before dawn standing on the wet highway in the rain. The downpour we had enjoyed all night had become a light dripping as we waited for a mini-bus to take us to Tikal. We arrive at the gate at 6.30. It is deserted except for the official gatekeepers. The many guides we expected to find were not there, only a few other visitors. We take breakfast at a restaurant near the entrance and shelter from the rain until eight o’clock and then scour the area for an English speaking guide. Around nine o’clock a large entourage of buses brings a huge crowd of Guatemalans to the parking area. We think it is a protest but it turns out to be a special day of significance to Guatemalans, – or rather the Mayan Guatemalans.

An English speaking Mayan guide appears with a tour group of five others and we set out around the extensive ruins of Tikal through jungle trails inhabited by many birds and howler and spider monkeys. It is an Indiana Jones experience as we step out into clearings with temples and acropolis and other dwellings, some well preserved and restored, and others under excavation, and apparently thousands of structures still buried and overgrown by the jungle.

As we approach the Gran Plaza, – the centre of Tikal, – we begin to hear voices and the sound of music, and as we approach the plaza through a gap between the rocks we find ourselves looking down on a great crowd of people, standing and moving around a fire in the centre of the square.

It is Grace Day and hundreds of Mayans have gathered for a ceremony or celebration. October 12 is an important day in the Mayan calendar and culture. Our late start gave us a wonderful and unique experience, – a glimpse into the Mayan culture in the heart of Mayan civilization, – Tikal.

I am impressed with Tikal. The site is well cared for and there is a lot of archeological work going on uncovering the lost city and time.

We eat an overpriced late afternoon meal at the Jungle Inn, one of the three hotels located at the entrance to the site and catch a ride back to our little hacienda at El Remate.

2007.10.13 Saturday

We get up early, have a coffee brought to us by Nancy, the woman who runs La Mansion, and stand out on the highway to flag down a mini-bus for Santa Elena and the bus station where we buy a ticket on a first class bus for the three hour drive to Rio Dulce. When we arrive we hire a boat to take us to the island in the river where our next hotel, the Catamaran Island Hotel, is located. The island and inn and marina located there are owned by an ex-American Navy serviceman. We have our own private cabana perched out over the water with a veranda to sit on and watch the river activity. We drop our luggage and head back to town quickly to catch a boat down the river to the Caribbean coast and the garifuna town of Livingstone, stopping on the way to see the Castillo of San Felipe and a hot spring. After a walk around the town and a light meal at one of the restaurants we head back to Rio Dulce and check in to the Catamaran Inn. In the evening we pay an outrageous amount of money, twenty five dollars, to have a pedestrian meal at Rio Brava, the restaurant at the boat dock that the Lonely Planet touted as the best dining in Rio Dulce. An interesting and full day.

2007.10.14 Sunday

Morning coffee in front of our cabana is followed by breakfast and a boat ride into Rio Dulce to catch a ‘chicken bus’ to Finca El Paraiso, a hot spring about an hour’s drive along the north shore of Lago de Isabella, the lake which feeds the Rio Dulce, where we have a swim and bathe under the hot springs waterfall. The bus has twice as many people as its capacity, much like the boat that took us down the river to Livingstone. When you think they will never be able to cram another person on the bus, it will stop and pick up five more people on the side of the road.

Rio Dulce would not rate highly on the charm scale although we found the Sun Dog Café, a very hip bar and restaurant run by a Dutch couple and had a good meal and some good conversation on the two occasions we went there. Uri, one of the owners said they were going to be rated the best place in town in the next Lonely Planet edition. We are happy for them.

When we return to our island hacienda, we finish the day with a swim, catch up on emails, and enjoy an evening meal at the hotel restaurant.

2007.10.15 Monday

We catch a nine o’clock ‘chicken bus’ from Rio Dulce for the sx hour trip to Copan, or rather, to El Florido, the border town on the Guatemala side. The trip actually turns out to be three buses, each smaller and more crowded than the last, as we and our luggage get moved twice at transfer points on the way. After crossing the frontier, we catch another bus into Copan Ruinas, the charming little Honduran community near Copan where we check into the luxurious Hotel Marina Copan for a much appreciated drink and shower. In the evening we explore the town and the fairly limited Artesanos Mercado