A Travellerspoint blog

Guatemala

Tikal

sunny 30 °C

From Antigua we made our way to Tikal, which is one of the major Maya archaelogical sites, within a national park deep in the steaming jungles of northern Guatemala. The Maya weren't one unified country, instead each of the major cities was it's own state (kind of like the ancient Greeks), of which Tikal was one of the biggest. They had quite an obsession with astromony and the passing of various interweaving cycles; towards the end of some of the larger cycles they all got a bit freaked out and would spend their time waging war on the nearest enemy city in order to capture their leader(s) and torture them to death as a sacrifice. Nice guys.

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We got to the park in the late afternoon so we had a nice couple of hours wandering around before the rangers closed the park down. And it was amazing. Huge, towering edifices of stone with vertiginous steps (some of which have been closed to the public as people kept on falling to their deaths) suddenly appear out of these clearings which have been hacked into the thick jungle. In between the clearings you're walking down rough paths actually under the jungle canopy, with critters howling at you and strange rustlings in the litter to the side. You really get a feel for how terrifying it must have been for the first explorers, and how incredible to discover (or rediscover rather) the buildings – and I say buildings because while some of them are partially ruined, some of them are still in remarkably fine shape, and you can climb up the steps until you actually get above the canopy.

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All of this and, during the couple of hours we were there in the afternoon we only saw a couple of other people! We returned in the morning (unfortunately not managing to sneak in early past the shotugn-toting guards to see the sunset) to check out the last couple of places we didn't get to see the previous night but by 8'o'clock the tour bus groups were arriving so the magic was starting to fade just a touch...

An amazing experience though – up there with the Great Pyramids, and definitely a massive tick off the list!

Jon

(note - you'll notice there aren't any photos on this post yet. I'm putting this up from Roatan in Honduras [yes, it's two weeks late i know] and it seems that good internet connections are something that don't happen here. Will put photos up as soon as i can and relink them to this post. Adios!)

Posted by pendleton 10:14 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Antiguys and Gals

sunny 23 °C

So we have left La Antigua. We were very sad to leave... we've had a great time, made some good friends and even learned a little Spanish.

Our hosts, family Gonzalez

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Our son, Todd

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and our last, slightly messy night out

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J&A

Posted by pendleton 17:32 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Goodness Gracious

sunny 23 °C

Yesterday we climbed up Volcan Pacaya.

We couldn't go to the top (boo) but we did get to see a really exciting lava flow (hurrah) and cook some marshmallows. Angi took an awesome video of me cooking (and eating) the same

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[i've been trying to upload this for a week but it keeps on failing 'cause it's too big - gareth get in touch if you feel like breaking up a 50mb video into more manageable clips, pretty please]

Last weekend we took a break from the Semana Santa craziness (of which we will post soon) and went to visit Lago Atitlan. Very beautiful, calm and tranquil, just what we needed.

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(more pics in the gallery)

J&A

Posted by pendleton 13:22 Archived in Guatemala Comments (2)

Semana Santa in Antigua

semi-overcast 24 °C

There are usually 35,000 people living in Antigua, but for one weekend each year the town swells to more than 15 times its usual size with tourists pouring in from all over the world. The reason? Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week.

Antiguans get into the Easter spirit by putting on huge processions involving hundreds of purple robe-clad men, some of whom carry huge floats with depictions of Christ carrying the cross, and mournful brass bands, all swathed in thick clouds of frankincense. These processions travel around the whole town, taking 6 hours or more to complete their route.

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Another tradition is for families or groups to create intricately-patterned 'carpets' (or alfombras) of brightly coloured sawdust and fresh flowers in the street, so that the procession can travel over them. We were able to get involved in making these alfombras with both our school and our host family.

First we coloured the sawdust by adding powdered dye, water, and rubbing it all together for 20 mins. The dye left us with stained hands for a couple of days!

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Then we arranged the coloured sawdust into patterns using stencils as a guide. The carpet we made with our school took approx 20 people 6 hours to make!!!

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And then it took about 2 minutes for it to be walked over and destroyed! After all that work we felt pretty protective over it and didn't really want it to be trashed – but...oh well.

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This is the carpet we made with our host family the following day. It took much less time, thankfully!

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The town is incredibly efficient about clearing up the sawdust and flower remnants immediately afterwards, by bringing in noisy dump trucks and teams of street sweepers. Kind of detracts from the 'holiness' of the occasion, but then again, so do the balloon-animal sellers and the guys in the procession on their mobile phones. “Hello God, can you hear me?”

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Posted by pendleton 16:47 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

The Earth Moved For Us...

Did it for you too?

sunny 23 °C

La Antigua Guatemala is a grower. For the first couple of days we were here, we didn't understand why travellers constantly raved on about it's amazingness, but now we've been here over a week we're definitely coming round to their perspective.

The town itself isn't that pretty, although it has fairly picturesque cobbled streets and low-slung stucco houses painted in muted rainbow shades. But if you step inside one of Antigua's many bars, restaurants or boutiques, you step into another world. They have beautiful courtyards with abundant flowers and greenery, tinkling fountains, shady nooks and fine fittings; very strongly evoking a bygone colonial age. It's a very pleasant sort of sanitised version of Central America where everything one could want to do can be accomplished pretty easily and crime and poverty aren't that in-your-face. Basically, it's a perfect location to ease us out of the creature comforts of travelling in the USA and into Latin America.

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We are studying Spanish at a school here for three weeks and staying with a local family (arranged through the school) in their house. It's a very basic, yet pleasant place arranged over two floors, and as the climate is so mild (similar to an English late spring or early summer, all year around!) none of the communal rooms have doors separating them from the outside which is wonderful. We're writing this from the terrace outside our bedroom which is draped in greenery and currently ringing with the dusk cries of the birds in all the trees around us. It also has a wonderful view of Volcan Agua. Antigua is actually nestled between three volcanoes – Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Fuego (Fire) is still very active and we saw a mini-eruption the other day from the schoolyard which was rather exciting. We've also felt a few minor earth tremors, which are reminiscent of standing on the ground above a tube train going underneath. Not quite London!

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Our Spanish tuition is quite intensive and is all one-on-one so we are picking it up fairly quickly and are now able to converse with some of the locals (with some waving of hands) which is great. All the lessons are also outside in the school's courtyard, fuelled by copious amounts of the great coffee which grows nearby. In typical Antigua style, the school's courtyard is beautiful, with lots of trees and flowers, and hummingbirds visit frequently. Our school lays on a number of free/subsidised activities in the afternoon, which allow us to see more of the area, mix with more of our fellow students, and try out our fledgling Spanish on the (semi-suspecting) locals. So far, we've walked up to the Cerro de la Cruz (the hill of the Cross), above Antigua itself, visited a macadamia nut farm and created a colourful carpet (alfombra) for the Easter Holy Week processions in the town – but more about that later.

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We're also getting three excellent meals a day sitting with our host family – a mix of foreign and traditional cuisines. The traditional meals are even more yummy than the others – usually consist of maize (corn) in tortilla form or some other preparation (of which there are many – pupusas, tamales, chuchitos, ...), beans, loads of fresh fruit and veg and some meat and cheese. And loads and loads of homemade piccante sauce, washed down with freshly-prepared fruit juices.

We are enjoying the laid back (well – it would be if it wasn't for these pesky lessons!) lifestyle and are slowly starting to unwind and taking the London sticks out of our arses (hence the lack of recent blogging – apologies). It is a wonderfully laid back place where plans are usually very elastic things and most of the time we're just going with the flow of whatever comes across our path that day, be it creating a carpet of flowers for a procession or an impromptu salsa lesson. Case in point – it's taken Jon a week to get around to getting his hair cut (He also had his first cut-throat shave, which was a little bit too exciting).

Just to round up, here are a couple of pictures of us and our gringo Americano flatmate Toddito making ceviche (raw marinated seafood) with the family today. Yummy!

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Hasta luego!

Los Pendletones

Posted by pendleton 11:40 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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