Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last few days in Guatemala

Today I´m hanging out in Guatemala City, spending most of my time indoors. It´s been raining for at least a couple hours now. I arrived earlier this morning to find the city nearly deserted. It was strange, so I asked the taxi driver if it was always like this and he explained that today is a national holiday and most people leave the city. He continued to explain that because of this, it´s dangerous to be out walking around. That was of course exactly what I wanted to hear, another warning regarding the danger in Guatemala.

Regardless, I´m staying in Zone 10 of the city which strangely resembles Johnson County, maybe because it has one of the nicest malls I´ve ever seen. It is supposed to be the safest area. In contrast, I got off the bus in Zone 1, which is the most dangerous part of the city and looks similar to downtown San Jose. The difference is so big between one end of the city to the other it´s hard to believe.

Well, since I last wrote something I visited a few more places in Guatemala. Last Saturday, I took a six hour tour of Tikal, the most famous and accessible Mayan ruins in the country. It was really impressive to be in the middle of the jungle and then just see these huge pyramids and temples. Only 15 percent of the city of Tikal has been restored. So, you will just be walking along a path and see hills with trees and grass covering them but they are actually ruins still covered by vegetation. It makes sense considering the Maya abadoned Tikal sometime in the 9th century. We were able to climb a few of the temples and pyramids to get a panoramic view of the area, which is about 16 sq km. It´s hard to imagine what life there might have been like more than 2000 years ago.

We started the tour at 6 am, so by the end it was really hot and we were tired. We spent the rest of the day in Flores relaxing. Then on Sunday I left for Salamá, which is a small city close to Guatemala City. It was a long day of travel...somewhere around 3 or 4 different microbuses. I counted 30 people on one of them, that´s 30 people with 15 actual seats. Fun.

Monday I walked around Salamá, visited the market, watched the people there, etc. It´s a pretty city surrounded by mountains. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and chatting with a few of the locals.

After all this moving around in Guatemala, I´m really looking forward to going to the beach in El Salvador and staying in one place for more than 2 nights. I´m going to leave here tomorrow morning. The bus to San Salvador takes about 6 hours, so I should be there tomorrow afternoon, patiently waiting for Thomas to meet me there tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Finding Guatemala

So, I am back in Central America after a relaxing yet hectic 6 weeks in Kansas. I´ve been in Guatemala for more than a week now, but it feels like I´ve only been here for 5 days or so.

I arrived last Wednesday and immediately took a taxi to catch local transport (aka chicken bus, retired USA school bus) to Antigua. When I stepped off this crazy form of local transport, the first thing I see is a group of 20+ gringo tourists...hmmm not what I was expecting. Then again, it is summer in the states so I guess it makes sense. Moving on, I found a place to stay and started walking around the city to see what was going on. I found it to be a beautiful colonial city with a great market, and a long list of restaurants, hotels, and travel agencies, but few locals actually living there. It´s obvious that few can afford it.

I spent my second Antigua day walking around some smaller villages about a kilometer outside of the center, and on the third day I joined numerous other adventure seekers for a tour of Pacaya Volcano. It´s an hour and a half outside of Antigua and then and hour and a half hike up an active volcano to a point where you can see lava and melt your shoes if you´re not careful. I was surprised that nobody found this to be really dangerous...walking up hot, sharp rocks towards glowing lava is perfectly normal, but whatever you do don´t walk around Antigua late at night.

On Saturday, I left Antigua to head towards Lago Atitlan. I went with three other girls that I had met and we decided to be brave (aka cheap) and take the chicken buses to the lake. Our journey included 3 bus transfers, hours of rain, walking in the rain and taking a small boat across the lake in the rain. We finally arrived in San Marcos wet, cold, and tired, but miraculously still in good spirits (probably because we were smart enough to realize San Marcos was too small to find a bottle of wine and bought a couple before taking the boat).

The rain didn´t stop, so Sunday we took a boat to another village on the lake called San Pedro. We had a few dry hours there, not long enough to actually dry anything, and then it started raining and didn´t stop. I wasn´t impressed with the village or the weather. Despite the fact that I didn´t really want to pack up all my wet clothes and leave the lake after such a short visit, I had to get out of there. I just wasn´t enjoying it at all. Luckily, one of the other girls felt the same way, so we were off again back to Antigua for the night.

On Tuesday, we went to Coban despite the fact that "there´s nothing to do there" according to many. We easily found a cheap place to stay and some locals gave us some good information on where to go. The next day we visted a more traditional mayan village outside of Coban that was surrounded by mountains and a nice lagoon. The weather was dry, the sun was out, we were the only tourists in the village and I was happy to finally feel like I was in Guatemala.

By Wednesday night we were in a rustic hostel right outside of Semuc Champey, which is a famous place to visit water pools formed by a limestone bridge going over a river. We spent Thursday morning wandering around the park and swimming in the pools before heading to Chisec, another small village Thursday evening. I really don´t have much to say about this town, probably because my immune system reminded me that although I can take these insane forms of local transport where 22 people (I counted) are in a van made for 15, I should not eat like a local.

I´m now in Flores which is a nice tourist spot set on a lake with easy access to Tikal (mayan ruins). I´m still trying to figure out what Guatemala is all about. Two weeks is obviously not enough time, but I´ve moved around a lot and therefore seen at least a few different parts of the country.

I´m leaving out so many details...like waking up in Coban at 4:30 am to a teenage boy lighting off hundreds of firecrackers in the middle of the street (why?), riding in the back of a pickup to get to Semuc Champey or the little boy who stared at me off and on for an hour today on the bus. I guess for another day...