Guatemala - 2010

After a killer night of working on papers, we lucked out on first class seats that let us recoup a bit. Awaking in Guatemala City, we quickly tried to locate the airline for our flight back from Flores (plan: overnight bus there). After some confused looks by airport personnel, we jumped a taxi ride to the "back" side of the airport to locate our cut-rate carrier. After some quick negotiation, we managed to swing a special ride on a plane that happened to be going there to collect passengers for an equally special price. With two hours before departure, we commandeered our cabbie to give us a whirlwind tour of the City - our only opportunity to do so. After seeing the central sites and grabbing some local snacks, we headed back to the airport to catch our essentially personal flight to Flores.

Having made up some time skipping the overnight bus, we took the opportunity to kick back a bit and wonder around the sleepy town and enjoy some good food and drinks. The following morning, while searching for breakfast, we were intercepted by Miguel, a small, feisty 85 year old, who insisted on us taking us out on his boat. After some brief haggling, we were off across the lake to a zoological reserve. In addition to seeing impressive beasts like Jaguars, we were explained which animals were the tastiest to eat (most, if not all). Along the way, Miguel shared stories of friends getting eaten in the jungle and many love tips.

Returning to Flores by midday, we devoured a few tacos at the top of the town, and then departed north for Tikal - a famed Mayan site. Upon arrival, we settled into our hammocks and headed in to catch sunset from the top of Temple IV. In the twilight, the guards let us explore part of the temple that was getting reconstructed. Shortly thereafter, we were offered a "special" night tour, which Amy couldn't resist. This involved waiting an extra hour or two, while watching all of the other tourists be led out, and listing to the howler monkeys. We then proceeded to walk around the ruins, hemmed in by Jungle, armed with a flashlight. After hearing about Miguel's friends, we were somewhat comforted by the handgun our "tour guide" carried. Our deal also included a "special" sunrise tour, which was spectacular from the top of Temple IV overlooking the jungle. The remainder of the day was spent exploring the rest of Tikal's awesome archeological sights.

By 3pm, we were on the road again, heading back down to Flores to catch our flight to Guatemala City. Never ones to sit down for an hour, we hopped a tuktuk to the next town over: Santa Elena. There we grabbed lunch and conversed a crazy canadian who "blew away a few kids" in the western highlands. After landing in Guatemala City, we were lucky to catch a taxi heading direct to Antigua. Unfortunately, the taxi wasn't very direct, causing us to get in very late. On top of that, Easter celebrations starting the next day had gobbled up most of the hotel accommodations in town. We settled for a real hole in the wall, which, fortuitously, had a rather resourceful travel agent located in the lobby.

Day 4 had us heading by chicken bus to the renowned Chichicastenango market, the largest in Central America. After some fierce bargaining and a peek in the curiously colorful cemetery, we returned with our loot to Antigua to catch the Easter procession. This involved 80 men carrying a 3.5 ton wooden float through the city streets, decorated with flower carpets, for 10 hours continuously. They were followed closely behind by 80 women carrying a smaller float, and a band playing dirges. Pretty unbelievable! And dramatic set against the volcanic peaks rising over cityscape.

Escaping from our lunchbox of a hotel, we took a 6am tour to Volcán Pacaya. An hour-long trail led to the side of the cone, where molten lava was spewing out of the mountain. Armed with s'more materials we purchased the night before, we made a few quick snacks over the lava. We had two casualties from the intense heat: Amy's sunglasses and shoes liquified or combusted entirely.

With our last hour in Antigua, we roamed the city center, explored a dilapidated palace, and picked up some delicious banana bread. We then departed for Semuc Champey, some six plus hours north on windy mountain roads, which made us both pretty moby dick. We arrived in pitch black, the town was dinky, and our hotel had apparently shut its gates for the night. We decided instead to hitch a 20-minute ride in the back of a truck to another hotel. Fortunately, this hotel (almost a resort) was located right near the sights we wanted to visit, allowing us to walk over to them the next day. We splashed around in the scenic limestone pools and swam into a cave with candles for illumination - Amy was in heaven.

Alas, our flight home was the next day, and we had many miles to backtrack to Guatemala City. To break the journey, we departed Semuc Champey in the afternoon and stayed the night in Cobán, a fairly pleasant city. On route to our hotel, we went through the local market, and found a cobbler to repair Amy's melted shoe soles. While enjoying the handiwork, we were approached by Jose, who insisted we visit his colonial-era house. After dropping our bags at our hotel, escorted by Jose, we were taken on a brief and clearly intoxicated tour of the neighborhood. This included introductions to many friends, as well as barging into some poor women's house for some tortillas making. Our "tour" concluded with some celebratory corn tortillas packed full of corn chips - his favorite fill-me-up snack after drinking.

We spent our last day busing the rest of the way to Guatemala City. We frantically loaded up on tomatoes, avocados, and tortillas in the central market, which they surprisingly let us take through security (on the condition we would eat them before boarding). We made a picnic lunch in the terminal and scored first class seats yet again!

© Chris Harrison