January 27, 2014 Volcan Pacaya, La Azotea Cafe Finca

Monday

View along the trail up

View along the trail up

So exciting! Today, we go up Volcan Pacaya. It erupted the week before we came and flights were cancelled. Thank God, everything settled down and we had no problem flying in. I start wheezing as we begin the 1 1/2 hour ascent, so I get a horse for Q100 ($12.50). A group member calls me, “Princess” as I’m the only one riding. I tell Two-Hats Tom to leave me alone, I’m still on meds for an upper respiratory infection!

My horse, Valente, brings up the rear of the tour. His handler stops often along the trail to break off a leaf here, a bloom there, and explains how locals gather resources from the forest. His English is better than the park assigned guide’s.

This leaf's underside is velvety soft. It can be used in cheese quesadillas or as emergency toilet tissue!

This leaf’s underside is velvety soft. It can be used in cheese quesadillas or as emergency toilet tissue!

I think I was told that these berries, when mature, are used in dyes.

I think I was told that these berries, when mature, are used in clothing dyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A safe distance from the main cone of Volcan Pacaya.

A safe distance from the main cone of Volcan Pacaya.

There’s a constant vapor cloud. We’re not allowed to climb up to the rim, though I’ve seen pictures of people near its lava flows.

Jadwiga and Two-Hats Tom have a great view!

Jadwiga and Two-Hats Tom have a great view!

Recent eruptions give locals concern as Pacaya sits on a magma chamber, making it very unstable. It produces hundreds of explosions each day, causing more lava to flow down.

The views are wonderful. We can even see Guatemala City!

The views are wonderful. We can even see Guatemala City!

A 1961 eruption was unexpected and lasted almost a month! In 1962, a collapse near the volcan’s summit, possibly caused by a volcanic vent, resulted in a pit crater.

Heaven seems closer up here

Heaven seems closer up here

Pacaya’s 2010 eruption was so powerful that it caused the main cone to collapse. The volcan is listed at 8,373 ft., but I don’t know if it was re-calculated after that event.

More Pacaya information can be seen at: www.volcanodiscovery.com/pacaya.html‎, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacaya‎ and volcano.oregonstate.edu/pacaya‎.

 

In the afternoon, we take a slow tour at a local cafe finca (coffee farm).

January 26, 2014 La Antigua

Sunday

Reminders

Reminders

 

We attend Iglesia Del Camino, the only Spanish to English speaking church in town. It’s 10 years old and makes a “joyful noise unto the Lord!” Ah-h-h, my soul is revived!

 

James, Soo & Lonnie

James, Soo & Lonnie

After service, we lunch across the street. We see the other Iglesia Del Camino visitor from today’s service. I go out and ask if he’d like to join us and he does! James says he came in last week to teach at a local English school. He’s also from the states. Less than a year ago, he quit a corporate job, took Spanish and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes and applied to teaching positions in Central America. He’s now living his dream!

James heads out and we wander …

How wonderful that these  purple blossoms come out in time for Easter!

How wonderful that these purple blossoms come out in time for Easter!

Two young vendors take a  break in the shade

Two young vendors take a break in the shade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artisan carefully smooths out a jade piece

Artisan carefully smooths out a jade piece

 

 

Antigua generale

 

 

 

 

Antigua bldg

Evening in Antigua is beautiful.

Palace of the Generals

Palace of the Generals

The sun's fading rays

The sun’s fading rays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proverbs 25:5  As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.

January 25, 2014 La Antigua

Saturday

The minivan shuttle in Guat City drops everyone off in Antigua’s central plaza, Parque Centro. La Antigua is technically a town as there are less than 100,000 residents, but because of it’s importance in Guatemalan history, it’s considered a city.

Casa Cristina

Casa Cristina

We grab a tuk-tuk to Casa Cristina. It’s an older property, pretty much like the rest of the city. Our room isn’t ready so Rosario puts us up on the more expensive second floor for a couple days at no extra charge. Nice! The room is small but quaintly furnished with lovely pieces. There’s complimentary coffee and sweet breads in the morning and it’s near Iglesia La Merced, an easy walk to Parque Centro.

*Make friends with locals. Rosario and her daughter are very helpful. They give advice on what to pay for tuk-tuks at various distances, favorite restaurants, acceptable tips to different service people, what to expect to pay and wait time at the only chiropractic clinic in town, etc. Rosario offers guidebooks and leisure reading books. The guidebooks are a little dated, but Guatemala hasn’t changed that much.

Pedestrians-only around the Santa Catalina Arch

Pedestrians-only around the Santa Catalina Arch

 

“Es muy bonita!” We walk and walk and walk. Everywhere, photographers with big cameras and even bigger zoom lenses stop and drop tripods for gorgeous views.

 

Can you imagine how massive this ruin used to be?!?

Can you imagine how massive this ruin used to be?!?

 

 

 

I don’t have such equipment and am happy to use what I do have. An old Canon and iPhone are my constant companions.

 

 

 

Antigua 3

 

 

Any direction one turns, history shines.

 

 

We stop at Delicias Quetzaltecas Cafe for a snack. The owner hears I have tummy problems and offers a special tea of chamomile, ginger and mint to go along with the best tasting tamal I’ve had in Guatemala. So good and of course l feel better!

January 24, 2014 Flores

Friday

Tikal minivanWe take the shuttle back to Flores. It’s basically a long minivan and really kinda fun. Tourists aren’t the only riders. Locals are picked up and dropped off along the way. Friends happily greet each other, chattering and laughing easily.

Flores taxi

 

Beware taxi drivers that negotiate to take a group of travelers over and drop you all off at the first stop, demanding more money to take you to your hotel.

 

 

Flores tuk tuk

 

The streets are cobblestone and sidewalks are uneven. We refused and found a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled motorcycle taxi) to take us to our hotel for Q10.

 

 

Flores Casa Amelia

 

 

We had a return reservation with Casa Amelia. It’s named after Amelia and her granddaughter is named after her. There are nicer hotels, but this was affordable and convenient – it’s right by the water and near many restaurants and shops. Well, really, everything is near everything else – walking all the way around the island takes about 15 minutes!

 

Flores lake

 

The mall across the bridge in Santa Elena has a dock at the back. Several steps lead down to it – a dock under water. For some years now, the water in the lake is slowly rising. I wonder if this is part of a cycle.

 

Four days ago, when we first arrived in Flores, we booked our return bus trip from Flores to Guatemala City and a shuttle on to La Antigua. We had walked over to a local travel agency that was near the hotel and had good reviews on Tripadvisor. The owner was very pleasant and stayed open late to work with us.

This morning, we’re chatting with another traveler. She went over to Santa Elena’s mall, found the ADN kiosk and bought a ticket for about half of what our individual tickets cost! We rush back to the travel agent and get a nice big “rebate.” I understand that businesses need to make money, but that was excessive for just making a couple of phone calls. I remember preparing for this trip and reading that travel agents provide a great service and are here to assist travelers, and contrary to popular opinion, are not here to get all they can. Maybe that’s true of the majority of agents.

*This experience just reminds us to do our homework and shop around first!

We’re not sleeping over. At 8pm, we board the overnight bus. Yes, the roomy seats are bigger than the average and there are footrests. No, I do not recommend the supposedly upgraded ADN. When I ask the bus driver a question, he very rudely answers with an “I-can’t-be-bothered” frown.

The onboard toilet is smelly! When I have to go back to my seat to get a headlamp (to see in the dark cubicle) and husband (to hold the door with the broken lock from swinging out) and tissue, it is NOT a good trip.

*There are upgraded buses. Confirm when booking that yours is indeed the executive level.

 

 

January 23, 2014 Tikal

Thursday

The first day we’d arrived in the park, we bought tickets and went in after 2:30pm. (The sunset tour started at 3:30pm.) Even though tours for Tikal Inn guests are free, park entry is not. We’d read that you can get tickets and enter the park after that time and be able to use the same tickets to get into the park the next day. IF … you come in the next day during regular hours of operation, that is true. The sunrise tour starts before regular hours so we still had to buy (reduced price) tickets. Tikal Don’t let Tikal Inn’s unappealing front entryway throw you. The overhang is sadly in need of major repair, the lobby area worn, but pass through it to see a pristine pool and beautifully maintained lawns leading to the cabins. The waitstaff is very nice, especially Oscar. Complimentary breakfasts and temple tours add value (though the guides could use more English lessons!). The room is very utilitarian and the the tub drains very slowly, but there’s a clothes rod with several shelves. Electricity only works 6am-8am and 6pm-10pm, so you’ll need to be quick about it if coming back from the sunset tour. (Yesterday, we came back by 8pm, went straight to dinner in the dining room before getting back to shower before the lights went out!) A nice touch was the complimentary 1.5 liter of water.

Val and Paul relaxing in the casual Tikal Inn lobby area.

Val and Paul relaxing in the casual Tikal Inn lobby area.

 

 

We made friends with Val and Paul, a Canadian couple.   Tikal Jaguar Inn

 

 

 

Today, we move over to Jaguar Inn. It is next door and even closer to the park entrance. Our room is a lovely improvement. We were greeted with a complimentary 20 oz. bottle of water. And, the lights and fan work ALL the time – YAAY! I heard the pool wasn’t up to snuff, but they have a computer for guests and the restaurant’s restrooms with outside sinks are clean and updated (unlike Tikal’s). The dining room is connected to the front desk, updated, roomy and with beautiful picture windows.

Nicolas and Johanna with Equi

Nicolas and Johanna with Equi

We say good-bye to Johanna and Nicholas, backpackers who sat next to me on top of Temple IV yesterday. An Equadorian friend had given them a grasshopper made from reeds. They give Equi to us because they know he would be crushed in the backpack. They’ve hitchhiked all over the world. After a short wait, a ride materializes and they’re gone!

 

We speak to, Caesar, a U.S. raised park guide not associated with the inn who very helpfully arranges for a canopy tour driver to pick up our suitcases and drop them off at Jaguar, at no charge, before taking us to the ziplines.

Tikal Zipline After a “Super” zip tour, we cross the road to lunch. There, Equi meets a real live tarantula. Tikal Tarantula Dinner at Jungle Lodge, the first lodgings in Tikal. Archeological teams stay there as it’s closest to the park. It’s bigger, nicer and has fancier food. The rooms are spacious with high-beamed ceilings and mosquito nets (Tikal Inn and Jaguar Inn don’t have nets) and have full electricity 24/7. One of my favorite things to do here is digging around their ice cream case, the only one in Tikal!

We walk back to Jaguar Inn, using our flashlights.

Jaguar Inn's charming bungalows

Jaguar Inn’s charming bungalows

Jaguar's cozy camp area

Jaguar’s cozy camp area

 

January 22, 2014 Tikal National Park

Wednesday

We join the tour in front of the hotel at 4:30am. With headlamps on, we play follow-the-leader through twisting, uneven trails through the dark, silent forest.

Temple IV comes into view and we trudge the many flights of wooden stairs up to the top. I am not comfortable with high places. I’ll go, but not very happily. It’s when we get where we’re going that I’ll appreciate the surroundings. So, ’til then, I avoid looking straight down and feeling rising waves of panic.

If you come to see the sun rise in Tikal, prepare to be disappointed. Yesterday was the perfect morning! People told us it was one of just two sunrises in the past two months. Not today. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s January, but we need jackets against the chilly winds.

 

 

 

We ask why restorations are so obvious. This is so there is no question that there has been a repair. You can see the original work and know where it had to be reinforced and still maintain the authenticity of the original structure.

We walk to the front of the park and visit the two museos, a laboratory and the vendors.

These stelae are authentic!

These stelae are authentic!

Could this be part of an original stela still in the ground?!?

Could this be part of an original stela still in the ground?!?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another original carving

Another original carving

Tikal museo 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tikal purse

I love how there’s a post office in the park! It’s a breeze buying postcards and plopping them down on the counter for that “special” Tikal postage stamp. One of my very favorite souvenirs is a woven purse I bargain for in the vendors’ stalls across from the main souvenir building. It’s zippered, with the same scene woven in slightly different colors on each side.

Happy with the day, we walk back, munching ice cream bars from Jungle Lodge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 21, 2014 Flores to Tikal

Flores

Tuesday

We enjoy a nice view from our breakfast table before taking the complimentary shuttle to Tikal. At first, we had thought to do what some tourists do – stay in Flores and take a day trip to Tikal. We decided to stay in a hotel at the entrance to Tikal National Park that gives complimentary guided sunset and sunrise tours at the ruins.

Isla de Flores is calm. Nothing much seems to be happening. Tourists wander around, taking in the serenity and browsing the little shops.

If you’re in a rush to get to Tikal, private transport will be faster than this morning’s shuttle. It’s a little late for our 7:30am pickup. We transfer to another shuttle and then we wait quite a while for the airport group to arrive.

Daylight shines on Tikal as we are dropped off. We’ll stay at Tikal Inn for two days before moving next door to Jaguar Inn for a day. Both are right across the road from Tikal National Park. It’s a bit of a ways to our cabin. Many of the travelers we’ve seen have large backpacks. Maybe we could have traveled lighter …

Down a long sidewalk ...

Down a long sidewalk …

single-file ...

single-file …

and onto a wider path

and onto a wider path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sunset tour starts at 3:30pm. There’s no “real” sunset, just the light drifting away toward the East. These ruins could be the largest concentration of restored Mayan temples and buildings in Central America. There are many, many more buildings in Tikal, overgrown with greenery, looking like grassy mounds. There just aren’t enough volunteers to unearth them.

It's a steep, winding trail to the Great Plaza

It’s a steep, winding trail to the Great Plaza

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried treasure

Buried treasure

The stelae in the plaza are replicas

The stelae in the plaza are replicas