Guatemala - March 21, 2000
Greetings from Guatemala. I love this colorful country!
I took the advice of many and skipped Guatemala City since
it is not supposed to be that safe or interesting, and went
directly to Antigua.
Antigua was founded in 1543. In addition to being one of
the oldest cities in the Americas, it is also known to be
one of the most beautiful. It has a few too many tourists
for my liking and at first I had the impression of it being
a city of "closed doors". However, it is very colorful,
has some beautiful ruins, spectacular churches and art,
a great market, and behind many of those doors, I found
amazing gardens and very welcoming people. I had the opportunity
to do two great hikes up Volcanoes Agua (the highest) and
Pacaya (still active), and once I had time to explore the
city, I found that it has many special places. My favorites
are the gorgeous hotel Casa Santo Domingo built around some
ruins, and Cerro de la Cruz, a hill just north of the city
with a huge towering cross. From this hill, there is an
amazing view of the city with the cross in front, the immense
Agua Volcano in the background, and all the buildings of
various bright colors below alongside trees with purple
It was also interesting that I was in Antigua briefly two more times,
and ended up spending three Sunday nights there in total. Each time I
had the good fortune of seeing the parades that are held in anticipation
of Semana Santa (Holy Week). They hold these parades every Sunday
evening for seven weeks prior to Easter. It is a huge procession that
goes through the entire town for hours with religious floats, people in
costumes, a marching band, and many followers. They are just a build up
for the even bigger processions held for Holy Week and Easter. It is too
bad I'll miss those as they are supposed to be amazing with, literally,
carpets of flowers in the streets!
Lago de Atitlan
From Antigua, I went by bus to Panajachel on Lago de Atitlan, and took a
boat across the lake to stay in a small village called San Marcos. Not
only was it beautiful and quiet, but there is a large Mayan community in
the hills there. One day I took a long run into the hills and constantly
had adults and children smiling and waving excitedly at me. The next day
I went back to take photos and started by taking photos of one family
(they allowed this because I promised to send them copies of the photos)
and the next thing I knew I had virtually the entire neighborhood coming
to ask me to take their photos too!
I went to Chichicastenago to experience its famous Sunday market.
Fortunately I arrived a day early because that turned out to be my
favorite part of being there. On Saturday the other tourists hadn't yet
arrived; I met lots of very friendly people and enjoyed exploring this
cute small town. As promised, the Sunday market was large and colorful,
the pig market was even more interesting, where I watched people barter
pigs for a couple of hours, but most interesting was the early morning
Sunday mass at Iglesia de Santo Tomas right in the center of the market
area. This church dates from about 1540 and although it is Catholic, it
was very unlike any Catholic mass I've ever seen. It was really filled
more with Mayan traditions and customs and several interesting rituals.
I took a gorgeous eight-hour bus ride from Guatemala City to the El
Peten region in Northern Guatemala to see Tikal, the greatest Mayan
religious center yet discovered. It is known as the most impressive of
the Mayan archeological sites. The pyramids are spectacular. Some are
higher than 40 meters and it is amazing to think that the Mayans settled
here as early as 700BC and within 200 years they had begun to build
these stone ceremonial structures. The park is also a very pleasant
place to visit and spend time because it is in the jungle, filled with
wildlife, including toucans, monkeys and lots of pisotes. During my time
in the north I stayed on the peaceful Lago Peten Itza, in a town called
Flores, and also went boating to see some of the sights around the lake.
My boatman was a 74 year old man (he looked about 100!) who has been
living there his entire life.
Rio Dulce and Livingston
From Tikal I took a bus to a town called Rio Dulce in Eastern
Guatemala and then a two hour boat ride down the river,
also called Rio Dulce (literally means sweet river because
it is fresh water), to the Caribbean town of Livingston.
This river was so beautiful and lush green with mangrove
and jungle walls filled with lots of tropical birds. The
most spectacular are the Garzas Reales, large white birds
perched on the trees along the river's edge. They seemed
to each be guarding their own tree. This boat trip was so
great that I did it again (in both directions) a few days
later. I loved the town of Livingston and as a result I
stayed there much longer than I had planned. It is a very
colorful place with outgoing and fun people. It has an interesting
mix of Garifunas and indigenous Kekchi Mayans. The typical
local coconut seafood soup called Tapado is excellent and
often while sitting in an eatery or restaurant, local Garifuna
bands will come in and play their traditional music. I took
some long runs here on the beach at sunset and once ended
up going through the cemetery which was very cool! It is
actually very typical of all the other cemeteries that I
saw from afar throughout Guatemala and Honduras, but this
was the first one I had the opportunity to actually go in.
It was like a park with lots of old, big trees, and tombs
that are painted in various colors and decorated with wreaths,
flowers and other personal things. Some of the most interesting
places I find are during these hour-long runs.
It is difficult to leave here, but I feel that Roatan off
the northern coast of Honduras has been calling my name...
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