|Outdoor shower was lovely|
|Heading out on our hike|
The path goes down into a small gully, past a hotel, and then turns left as you climb up the mountains surround the lank. There was a large section of burnt out land up top – it still smelt faintly of charcoal and ash. We walked past this burnt out area and eventually crossed a bridge into Jaibilito. We walked through the town, than back and down the only cross street to the dock area, then turned left to go to Club Ven Aca. Along the trail, we could see where new retaining walls had been built, as the lake water rose.
|Zipping across to San Juan|
|View of Antigua from Kafka|
We wandered down to the arch, then past the Merced Church before finding Kafka, a restaurant that had been recommended to us. They have a wonderful rooftop patio, with an amazing view of Pacaya. (In fact, quite a few places in Antigua have rooftop patios with views of the volcanoes that ring the city.
It was pretty windy, and getting cooler, so after one drink we headed out and wandered towards our hostel, we took a pretty rambling route, because one of the things that we enjoy is just walking through different cities and seeing the buildings, the people and the lives that happen there.
The next day we were picked up at 6:30, and driven to the trailhead for Pacaya, an active volcano just outside Antigua. Tickets typically do not include entrance to the park, an extra 50Q per person. The two other people with us, a German couple, didn’t have enough money, they hadn’t known that they needed extra to enter the park. We weren’t going to ruin their Christmas Eve by making them wait at the gate for us, so we offered to lend them the money. They only need a few Quetzles for the entrance fee, so we were shortly off.
|On top of Pacaya|
The hike itself starts out at a moderate grade, but quickly becomes much steeper. Our guide, who spoke fairly good English, would allow us to stop every 30 minutes or so, for a quick break to get our breath back. As it was just the four of us, we made good time. We climbed higher and the guide pointed out lava flows from both 2010 and from early 2014. We then headed across the lava field, over the jagged rocks, being carefully where we stepped. We stopped to pose for a few photos, and then rounded a corner to find….a store. The Lava Store, to be exact. This store provides local with jobs – they make jewellery that have lava stones set in them. Buy a piece, and you get a small change purse, made from traditional Mayan cloth. We lent the German couple some more money here, and honestly I wasn’t going to ask them to repay it. You do good deeds to do good deeds, not to get rewarded or paid back. However, true to their word, they left the money for us at our hostel later that day, after we had returned from our trek. I hope they had an enjoyable rest of their holiday.
After a brief stop here, we headed over to another lava field to roast some marshmallows (which, along with a stick, were provided by a guide.) over a hole dug into the rocks. We spent a bit of time here – we were the first tourists to arrive, so we were all alone, and wandered around a bit. When a larger group appeared, we decided to head back – our solitude having been interrupted.
Back in Antigua, we headed out for the challenge of finding something open for lunch (and then dinner). A lot of restaurants in Antigua close for both the 24 and 25 of December, although we noticed that the places closer to hotels or hostels tended to be open. We also found out that most hostel offer cheaper beer than the bars, and you don’t need to be a guest to drink there. Good tip if you’re looking to save some money.
On the 26, we were picked up by a private shuttle and taken to the airport in Guatemala City, where we climbed aboard a 19-seat plane for a quick flight to Flores, and from there to Tikal, a set of Mayan ruins buried in the jungle. We had booked a hotel right in the park, along with a few tours.
Our first tour was immediately after arriving at the hotel. We walked into the park, and stopped at nearly every tree for a brief discussion on what it was. It took a few minutes before we got to our first set of ruins, and they were blissfully empty. We wandered around (and over) before heading to the Grand Palace, and the hordes of people. We climbed up a few pyramids, but trying to wind our way between the crowds was difficult. Our group had 7 people, 3 Americans, 2 Colombians, and us 2 Canadians, so the tour was mostly in English, with some Spanish for the Colombians. We all seemed to go at the same pace, which was great. After climbing up the largest pyramid in the park, and enjoying the views (if you’ve ever seen Star Wars: A New Hope, you might remember the aerial views of Yavin 4, which were filmed at Tikal. That’s essentially the view you get from the top of the pyramid) we hopped a truck back to the park gates.
|Up top at yaxha|
Our trip the next day was to Yaxha, another set of Mayan ruins not far from Tikal….as the crow flies. Driving there takes about an hour and half. Only about 10% of Yaxha has been unearthed, so you constantly pass “hills” that aren’t hills – they’re pyramids buried under earth, trees and roots. Yaxha has far fewer visitors, so we were nearly undisturbed, other than the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees, which are a little disturbing. When all you see is jungle, and you hear a noise that sounds remarkably similar to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, you really start to wonder who’s trying to prank you. We got to climb a bunch of pyramids, enjoying the views from the top, before heading to lunch, and a boat ride across the lagoon to an island, and more Mayan ruins. It was about this time that the rain began, so we quickly headed back to the car, and to Tikal. The rain did let up, so the BF decided to try the ‘canopy tour’ near the entrance to Tikal – he says it wasn’t nearly worth it, as it’s a series of nine, short zip-lines and nothing ‘canopy’ or ‘tour’ like about it.
|On the Rio Dulce|
The next day saw another early morning, as we headed to Santa Elena, for a bus to Rio Dulce, and then a ferry towards Livingston, and our hostel on the river. The bus ride was short, quick and painless, and we arrived about a half hour before the boat left. The boat ride was a bit slower – it’s very much meant for tourists – they swing by the fort, then a tree filled with birds, then stop to let local girls in canoes paddle up to sell souvenirs, another stop at hot springs, and then they pick up speed as they race down the various channels to drop people off at hotels.
We spent two days lounging river side, reading and relaxing, before heading into Livingston itself for a few days. At this point we were losing steam – we’d been travelling fairly non-stop for a week and a half, so we were beginning to look forward to a few days of rest in Guatemala City before heading home. Our stop in Livingston kind of felt like just killing time.
|Not prepared for the hike up to Siete Altares|
Still, we booked a tour out to Playa Blanca, on what turned out to be our greyest day in Guatemala. We stopped off at Siete Altares, hiking up to the pool at the top (which was filled with collage age children, so we didn’t stick around), before speeding across to the beach. We paid the 20Q entrance fee, and sat on the beach (getting bit by little sand flies) and enjoying the few rays on sunshine that broke through the cloud cover. The weather turned nasty again, and we headed out 45 minutes earlier than planned. The sea was choppy, but lots of fun as we headed back to Livingston.
Getting to Porte Barrios the next day, January 1, was interesting. We waited at the dock for half an hour for the ferry to fill. (Lucky us that we hadn’t arrived early – one couple had been waiting for an hour!) But we eventually headed out, only to be pulled over by the navy – doing a spot check of licences and safety precautions. Once in PB (ha!), we caught our bus to Guatemala City. I’m pleasently surprised that all of our connections, for our entire trip, ended up being fairly painless. Often we did have to wait an hour for the next bus, but in the grand scheme of things, an hour isn’t too bad a wait. At least it’s not 3+ hours, right?
After that it was relaxing at our swank-fancy-pants hotel, who got us a driver to take us to the market so we could pick up souvenirs. We went to the central market in Guatemala City, where we found everything we were looking for – t-shirts, ball caps, hammocks, toys, masks, coffee, texiles, etc, and vendors willing to haggle with us. But other than that, we were too tired to properly visit the city.
Still, we were sad to leave, especially since we arrived home to freezing rain and snow. Which is why we’re going to Jamaica for Easter.
– sunshine, sunshine, sunshine – closure of shops/restaurants in
– La Fortuna at Atitlan (and Atitlan) Antigua over Christmas
– Volcan Pacaya – Tikal
– Yaxha – Livingston
– excellent bus, ferry systems – boats are few and far between on
– safe Rio Dulce
– friendly people, who don’t push you – non-haggle friendly vendors
to buy souviners in Antigua
-haggle friendly vendors in GC – waiting an hour for a bus