January 20, 2014

Yesterday, Jacqui and Brian left for Tikal. We had breakfast together. With big hugs, we promised to keep in touch.

Daylight fades on the Rio Dulce

Daylight fades on the Rio Dulce

 

 

In the evening, we went down the river to Hotel Vinas del Lago and watched a Super Bowl playoff game with our dinner. It was the first time I’d ever seen a dock covered in real grass!

 

 

 

Fronteras1

 

 

A motorcyclist eyes a man carrying live chickens down the street

A motorcyclist eyes a man carrying live chickens down the street

Today, we leave for Isla de Flores before going on to Tikal. Time to leave the peaceful sweet river. We wait in Fronteras for the bus to Isla de Flores. The lovely colors of contemporary Mayan dress can be seen everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The daily lives of residents is interesting.

 

 

 

Behind us is the tiny island that houses a museo

Behind us is the tiny island that houses a mus

Four hours later we arrive in Isla de Flores. On the ride, we make friends. My new pal was born in Guatemala, adopted and raised in the United States. Years ago, she began coming to vacation in Guatemala. She has an affinity for this beautiful country and her Spanish is improving.

 

 

View from our room at Casa Amelia's

View from our room at Casa Amelia’s

 

 

The city is jam packed full of buildings. There isn’t much green space but the island is very clean.

 

 

Flores 3

 

I buy a scarf from Chick Boss, a shop on a mission. Many families benefit from jewelry and accessories made and sold in this shop.

 

 

 

Flores 4

 

We eat at La Luna. The colorful lights and decor are very nice, the food was alright. I just think the fish was a bit overcooked.

 

Flores 5

 

 

Dessert at Sarita, a popular ice cream chain.

January 18, 2014 Fronteras, Livingston

Rio D plank

Today, we walk to Fronteras, the nearby town, for breakfast. The path goes from wooden planks and dirt roads through forest trails to asphalt streets.

It's early and this four-footed local needs a bit more shut-eye

It’s early and this four-footed local needs a bit more shut-eye

 

 

 

Locally sourced produce

Locally sourced produce

Open market

Open market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We eat at Bruno’s before wandering around town. It’s Saturday, so people are out for market day.

It's worth a visit to the old fort

It’s worth a visit to the old fort

 

In the afternoon, we ride a fast launcha to Livingston. Along the way, the driver slows so that we have a great view of Castillo de San Felipe del la Lara …

 

 

Can you see the Great White Heron, or is it a Great Egret???

Can you see the Great White Heron, or is it a Great Egret???

 

 

 

a small island with birds …

 

 

 

We can only dip our feet in for a short while in the tiny little hot spring

We can only dip our feet in for a short while in the tiny little hot spring

 

 

 

a small hot spring …

 

 

 

A young girl canoes out to sell us trinkets

A young girl canoes out to sell us trinkets

 

 

 

brief stops in a few small coves …

 

 

 

Canyon gorge's limestone walls

Canyon gorge’s limestone walls

 

and a ride through the gorge of a limestone canyon on the way. The canyon’s beautiful white limestone walls are covered with rich … green … overgrowth. How disappointing. Well, the walls are quite tall.

 

A view of the Gulf of Honduras from Livingston's dock

A view of the Gulf of Honduras from Livingston’s dock

Livingston is where the Rio Dulce empties into the Gulf of Honduras. It’s named after Edward Livingston, member of a prominent family that immigrated from Scotland. He was active in the Democratic-Republican political party organized by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791-93 before it split into two parties. In 1801, he was U.S. Attorney for the district of New York while also serving as Mayor of New York. Edward wrote the Livingston Codes, the foundation upon which the United Provinces of Central America based their law in the early 1820s. The provinces later became Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Family transport

Family transport

Unfortunately, Livingston is not a very pretty town. There are restaurants and gifts shops up and down the main street, but the landscape slowly changes as we leave the area and head down to the shore to visit the Garifuna community. There are other communities of Afro-Caribbeans, Maya and Ladino peoples, but I will concentrate on the Garifunas. 

A colorful stall

A colorful stall

In the mid-1600s, a ship or two, depending on which version you have, sank off the coast of St. Vincent. Many slaves survived and blended in with the Carib Indians. They intermarried and became the Black Carib, or Garinagu. They are better known as Garifunas, the name of their culture and language. In 1796, the Black Caribs joined the French to battle the Brits. The Brits won and their enemies were forced to leave. The Garinagu were allowed to go to Honduras. Eventually, many migrated to Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Most of the Garifuna in Central America are near the sea

Most of the Garifuna in Central America are near the sea

 

An elderly gentleman greets us as we pass him. We stop and ask if we are going in the right direction. He says he is going there and can show us the way. We gladly fall in!

 

 

 

Julio is enjoying his retirement in Livingston

Julio is enjoying his retirement in Livingston

 

Julio is Garifuna and Spanish. He grew up in Livingston. Said he loved growing up there as a child, but the future wasn’t very bright. When the opportunity arose, he left for Los Angeles, then New York – two cities with the largest concentrations of Garifunas in the United States. He made a decent living and sent money home to the family. Thirty years later, Julio retired and moved back, to the memories of his childhood. When he was growing up, it was a beautiful little community with not many people. It has changed.

 

Livingston 16

The air is quiet. Julio says there is a mass for dead relatives at church and many are there today. Waves gently roll over the sand. The peaceful shoreline belies the sad state of this community. It’s like the Guatemalan government forgot about the Garifunas and their needs.

 

 

Many can't afford to feed their animals and let them run loose to find food

Many can’t afford to feed their animals and let them run loose to find food

 

 

There is no garbage service, so trash litters roadsides and where ever one wishes to drop food wrappers and containers.

 

 

 

Livingston 15

 

A dilapidated nightclub, an abandoned, partially built apartment building and other uninhabited buildings are sad reminders of developers’ dashed hopes.

 

 

The owner proudly poses by her sign

The owner proudly poses by her sign

We arrive at Gamboa Place, an authentic Garifuna “restaurant” to taste a favorite local dish, Tapado. It’s a seafood soup, eaten with a whole fried fish. The woman who owns it is another of those who left to find work and send money home. She went to Belize, where there is a large Garifuna community, before coming home and opening her own business. She said Belize has been making more of an effort to save the Garifuna culture and language, but it’s a struggle. It is said that there are approximately 300,000 descendants around the world, with less than 100,000 in Central America and only 90,000 native speakers left.

No octopus, but there's conch!

No octopus, but there’s conch!

Julio is comfortable eating at an outdoor restaurant where I notice that a man is washing dishes in well water. We are happy that the soup will be boiled and the fish fried. It takes a long while before we get our food. It finally arrives and is delicious!

 

Wicked looking eyes!

Wicked looking eyes!

 

 

A curious dog comes by to check out the food and is shooed away. One feline visitor is quite upset we didn’t share fish bones.

 

 

 

 

 


Livingston 20

 

On the trip back to Rio Dulce, we are like the water taxi. People are dropped off and others are picked up. Brian made a new friend at one of the stops.

January 17, 2014 Rio Dulce

What a relaxing environment! Tortugal’s bungalows are rustic and quite charming.

Love the roomy mosquito net!

Love the roomy mosquito net!

Dining by the water, walking along the dock, wandering the trails, gazing at the bobbing boats …Rio D dock

Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara

Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara

 

We hop in a launcha for the short ride to Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara in Rio Dulce National Park. It’s very close – we can see it from Tortugal’s deck. There was a discussion on kayaking over, but it’s a bit windy and I’m not a strong paddler.

View from above the drawbridge

View from above the drawbridge

The Spanish colonial fort was built in 1644 to protect the port of San Antonio de las Bodegas from pirate attacks. The location is at the narrowest part of the river that travels all the way to the Gulf of Honduras into the Carribean Sea. At night, a chain was stretched across the river from the bank to the fort to keep out uninvited visitors. Unfortunately, that and the moat with drawbridge couldn’t protect it from being destroyed and looted several times.

One of the cannons found upriver

One of the cannons found upriver

In 1688, the fort was rebuilt … again. This time, the addition of more ramparts and guard stations stopped the attacks. In 1956, the fortification was beautifully restored. During the restoration, a search for the original cannons found them upriver from the fort! We didn’t know we’d need a light to explore the dark lower level of the fort, so I pull out my phone and use the flashlight on my Camera+ app.

 

 

 

Souvenirs and food are a hop, skip and jump from the fort!

Souvenirs and food are a hop, skip and jump from the fort!

Nowadays, after the tour, you can stroll the grassy lawns, pick up souvenirs and buy some local food before leaving.

Peaceful river

Peaceful river

 

 

 

 

 

The river is beautiful as night falls.

 

 

 

 

We have pizza & movie night on deck. Watching “Captain Phillips”, a thriller based on the true story of present day high seas piracy, is a fitting end to the day.

Pizza, popcorn and Tom Hanks, under the stars!

Pizza, popcorn and Tom Hanks, under the stars!

January 16, 2014 Rio Dulce

The taxi driver we used yesterday is taking us to the Litigua bus station this morning. We’ll be listening to water lapping against the dock in Rio Dulce tonight!

He’s late. We wait. An older man waves at us from his taxi. We shake our heads and continue waiting. I see a pick-up with a mounted machine gun in front of a hotel. Half a dozen black vehicles are lined up in the hotel’s curved driveway. In relatively safe Zona 10, machine gun wielding soldiers/security officers are a common sight, but this group means business!

VIP escort

VIP escort

Ten minutes later, we decide to walk over to the certified taxi line. Our driver walks by. “Hey, Marlon!” He is nonchalant. He says his father is taking us. (How would we know that?!? My internal radar should have kicked in.) He takes us over to the man who waved at us earlier. We get in, all the while his father is chuckling with amusement. (Spoiler alert: His good humor isn’t going to last.)

It's a bit startling seeing a man hanging from the local bus, kinda like a stunt man!

It’s a bit startling seeing a man hanging from the local bus, kinda like a stunt man!

Tip: Take the white certified taxis. The trendy, late-model taxis are not considered safe.

After about 20 minutes in the mounting early morning traffic, the landscape changes to more mountainous scenery. I shoot my husband a sideways glance and say it looks like we’re headed out of town! We hurriedly tap Marlon’s father on the shoulder and franticly shake our heads – “WRONG WAY!!! Litegua, not Antigua!”

BIG Tip: Going to a foreign country? Learn as much of the language as possible so as to avoid miscommunications!

He pulls onto the side of the road, waits for cars to pass, reverses gears, going backwards to reach a break in the highway to make a quick U-turn. This is a busy thoroughfare, mind you, so it’s a little hairy! We swing into bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling towards town. One recognizable word he’s muttering is “Idiot!” We finally arrive and miss the bus by 10 minutes. The next bus to Rio Dulce is several hours later. When things like this happen, I try to take it in stride. There’s a reason God wants us to experience this – just wait. It may take a while, but something good will come of it.

This mother at the bus station reluctantly gave permission to be photographed. I'm glad she did!

This mother at the bus station reluctantly gave permission to be photographed. I’m glad she did!

The Litegua bus is comfortable, but the restroom doesn’t work. It’s going to be a long 4 to 5 hour ride. Unclean/pay-to-use restroom stops along the way to Rio Dulce are a discouraging foretaste of what to expect the next two months. *Sigh*

It’s dusk when we arrive in Frontera, the town the Rio Dulce (“Sweet River”) flows by. Most people refer to the town as Rio Dulce. The river starts here after streaming out of the east side of Lago de Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake.

Tip: There are a couple of ATMs in Frontera, but you might want to go to one of the guarded ATMs in Guat City (or the big town you’re coming from) before arriving. If you decide to use U.S. dollars, merchant exchange rates will be in their favor. Dollar bills must be relatively new, with no folds or tears, or merchants may refuse them.

Now I see why we were destined to miss the first bus – God wants us to have company! Another couple (who missed their bus too!) is also going to the same hotel, Tortugal (“the place of the turtle”) Hotel & Marina. Jacqui and Brian are Australians and we work together to get a launcha to the hotel, not far across the lake. There is a footpath, but it’s not recommended for tourists after dark. A local is kind enough to call the hotel for us and the boat is coming. Darkness rolls across the water as we sit and get acquainted. By the time we all arrive at the hotel’s dock, we’re comfortable with each other. At dinner overlooking the river, Jacqui comes over to our table and suggests we all go exploring together during our stay. Yay – God is good! If we had not missed the first bus, we would have been eating separately and not had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy new friendships!

 

January 15, 2014 Guatemala City, Guatemala

Ya-a-a-y!!! Central America! So much to discover!

Glimpsing Guatemala

Glimpsing Guatemala

We arrived yesterday and don’t plan on spending much time in Guat City as it’s like #12 on the list of “Most Dangerous Cities in the World.” God willing, as long as we stay in the touristy areas, guard our belongs and are aware of our surroundings, it’ll be fine. A young woman researcher living outside Guat City says to stay off our smartphones in public – phone snatchers are watching. Even her locally purchased phone was stolen.

*Tip: If getting quetzales at the airport – walk out the airport door, cross the drive to the parking lot side and take the elevator on the right, up to the third floor location of Banrural. Kiosks inside the airport exchange rate – 6.51. Banrural exchange rate – 7.78!

A taxi picks us up to go to the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) in the Parque Central. I pull out my camera and start snapping away. The driver glances over his shoulder and quickly tells me to put it down! (Later, I find out that thieves on motorbikes have been known to drive up to a vehicle, point a gun and grab purses and other valuables before making a speedy escape.)

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

I have to say that when we arrive at the palacio, there are no English speaking guides. We’re told there ARE no English speaking guides. Reading Tripadvisor, many mention English speaking guides. Oh well, I like researching interesting places …

A grand salon for important meetings

A grand salon for important meetings

The palace was once known as the most important building in Guatemala as it’s the point from which ALL the roads in the republic originated – amazing! It looks to be centuries old, but was completed in 1943 when Presidente Jorge Ubico was in power. Forced prison labor toiled many years to build the residence. The bricks are green(-ish), Ubico’s wife’s favorite color.

Visitors gather 'round the guide as she points out the fresh rose on the bronze hands of the Monument of Peace, commemorating the end of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

Visitors gather ’round the guide as she points out the fresh rose on the bronze hands of the Monument of Peace, commemorating the end of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.

From what I’ve read, this presidente was a totally self-absorbed despot.  He had a thing about the number “5.” Wonder if it started when he noticed his first and last names have five letters each. The building has five main pillars, five fountains, arches in fives, there are five stories, etc.

Ubico's thumbprint atop the door handle

Ubico’s thumbprint atop the door handle

He even had his fingerprint imprinted onto all 500 door handles in the building. Thankfully, in time, he was removed. He later died in exile in New Orleans.

Bullet casings railing by one of many larger-than-life murals throughout the palace

Bullet casings railing by one of many larger-than-life murals throughout the palace

There are many detailed murals depicting various stages of Guatemala’s history. Can it be true that the stair rails are made of spent bullet casings?!?

 

Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago

We walk across the plaza to Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago (First Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago).  Building started in the late 1700s, with full completion 86 years later. (I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. I couldn’t get a clear shot in the bright sunshine.)

The catedral's vaulted ceiling

The catedral’s vaulted ceiling

 

 

 

The Metropolitana is not just another cathedral. It holds immense meaning for Guatemalans.

 

 

 

Penance

Penance

 

 

It has survived three major earthquakes within two centuries and weathered countless events, including a bloody prolonged war, coups, and a revolution.

 

 

 

Lighting candles

Lighting candles

A man leans over to admire the alfombra, a sawdust rug

A man leans over to admire the alfombra, a sawdust rug

 

 

It houses the country’s oldest icon and its very first pipe organ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catedral Candles

 

 

The twelve pillars in front are etched with thousands of names, a heartrending tribute to those who disappeared or were murdered during Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war. It is still recovering and will take decades to do so.

SooSoo is seeing Central America!

Sorry for the long lapse in posts. We were thankful one of the kids came in for Thanksgiving. Then, blessed when all three came home for Christmas!

The new year brought new experiences. We have been in Guatemala since January. Today, we leave for Nicaragua. Since we didn’t bring the laptop, it’s difficult to load photos and video. I’ll post more when we come back in late March.

Soo

p.s.: I’ve been tweeting travel photos from @SooSooSees!

Magic Day 5: Belize City, Belize

Thursday,  November 7, 2013

"Sorry, what can I do?"

“Sorry, what can I do?”

We’re told to not venture outside of the tourist areas, so Lonnie & I sign up at Belize Caribbean Tours to visit the ruins. We hope that a small group with a guide will be a nice experience. It was a mistake … a BIG mistake. They herd four of us around for almost an hour, to three different “waiting areas” as they try to get more people to fill up the van. There are about a dozen of us who finally leave. But not before the agent gets an earful, even after he offers to add another stop along the route (that would squeeze the schedule’s timeline). If there’s a long wait time, passengers should be told. They probably didn’t want to lose customers, but it’s still a poor policy. We know better now that unless you already have a group going, DON”T sign up for a van!!!

Mayan ruins

Mayan ruins

Imagine their lives ...

Imagine their lives …

To be fair, our guide, Richard, is quite good. With 16 years as a guide under his belt, he’s a constant stream of Belize history. He says to ask him anything, even about his family. (We now know how much it costs for his child to go to school and what color her uniform is.  We also go by the school she attends.) There’s a short tour of the city, then countryside, before taking an hour long trip to the ruins. Okay, it’s fun speeding past the huge, lumbering cruise buses that sway along the horribly pockmarked excuse of a road. Thinking positively, our oft times jarring ride can also be seen as an invigorating seat massage. An advantage of a small group is that we can listen up close to the commentary – we definitely would not be able to hear as well in a large group walking the ruins. 

If you plan to visit for a while, this is some of what Richard shared with the van as we went hurtling along. Belize’s top four industries are agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and oil. There is no local paper, but they have electricity and lots of cable shows to keep them connected with the world. Water is 1/2 a U.S. cent per gallon. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America. Thirteen years ago cruise ships began docking in Belize and Americans came, buying property and building homes here. Every citizen in Belize who turns 18 is gifted property from the government – in the city, a small property, in the country, up to 10 acres. A 2000 sq. ft. home in a decent neighborhood in the city runs about $250 for property tax. If you have someone working for you (maid, gardener), you have to pay income tax, about 7%.

June to November is the rainy season. We come at a good time. Last week everything was flooded and all tours were canceled! The last big hurricane here was in 1961. The crime rate is very low, 89 homicides/murders so far this year for the whole country. Richard talks about concrete homes, delicious fruit, the population, and much more! 

Happy image compliments of the house photography team:

A magical Elegant Night

A magical Elegant Night

Dining room dancing! Add another performance from Marlon, the Singing Waiter: