Guatemala: Episodes of a Trip
January 1, 1970
by Rita Jorge
We all have an adventure, a knowledge, an opinion, a memory, an episode to tell…
These are the Episodes of a Trip: Guatemala
You can watch the video here: [vc_video link=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2VNg7koe2s]
Any question send an email for: [email protected]
Before I talk a little about my paths and adventures, I leave my quick view of this country, about practical things:
Traveling inside: “(…) there are plenty of shuttles that will pick you up and leave you in your final destination.”
This country is extremely well organized regarding traveling in between cities – there are plenty of shuttles that will pick you up and leave you in your final destination. You can find more useful information regarding the shuttles (pricing and the schedule options) in almost all Hostels or tourist agencies. When you purchase the tickets, in the agencies, make sure you keep the receipt with you so you can show to the driver as a proof of purchase. Make sure that the same paper has the amount that was charged to you. My trip took place in the dry season, but even during this weather it was visible some problems getting through certain places due to bad road conditions. You have to be prepared to lose a few hours in the shuttles. The roads that have pavement are usually very busy causing several traffic jams… Driving in the remaining roads takes some time due to its characteristics- dirt and muddy roads- and even more if the car gets stuck in the mud or blow a tire… quite possible things like these happen – Due to this you have several garages shops throughout Guatemala – but in the end everything is worth it when we get to see the breathtaking view of our destination. You also have the public transportation, most known as “the chicken bus”. They are quite funny and unique, all of them have a specific decoration – character from cartoon network, or some patriotic motives- you can take nice pictures. However that’s the only thing you can do, because sometimes it becomes quite impossible to access some places using this transport due to the bad condition of the roads. It is true that there is a large price difference between the “Chicken Bus” and the shuttles. However I believe that is better to pay a little more and spend less hours driving from place to place. On average you pay about 80/100GTQ each way.
Food: “(…)a lot of Nachos, Guacamole, Quesadillas, Tacos, Bean Paste, Barbecue Chicken.”
The food is very similar to the Mexican one. You have a lot of Nachos, Guacamole, Quesadillas, Tacos, Bean Paste, Barbecue Chicken. I can’t tell you a lot about the beverage because I usually drank their local beer “Gallo” or ended up drinking something coold like a Mojito – something that knew well in double 1) because it is fresh 2) always be enjoyed with a good view. The average price of meals is 60GTQ, but you can eat for much less.
Where: Located in Central America, wich borders Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. A country not widely spoken or visited by Portuguese people – according to the local people. A country extremely marked by their different colors and by their warm and friendly population! A country with a lot of nature to explore.
Now the Trip:
During the 29h trip we had a short stop in New York and El Salvador. On the plane, I was awarded by the company of my travel partner – Not! She was sleeping the all time.
Lots of cars; a lot of traffic jam; many people some of them dressed in different movie characters and/or series wandering in the streets. You have a lot of traffic lights and signs for peons that are not immediately noticeable. It could only be New York! The city that awakens so many sensations… the city that seems we already know, even without ever had touch their soil. It’s easy for a person to get lost and let yourself marvel in the numerous streets full of distractions. But with only a nine hours layover and one 10 kg backpack – the airport has no luggage storage – we have to make choices. Ours was to walk in the streets of Times Square, passing near the Empire State Building, Central Station, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and finally we catch a yellow cab for World Trade Center Memorial. If you have only a few hours of connection, and if you make the trip between the airport and center, by bus or taxi count on at least with 2 hours each way. Even if the schedule says you have a bus every 10 minutes from the center … count on 2h.
The initial idea was to take a flight to El Salvador, stay there a few days, and then take the bus to Guatemala. Unfortunately we had to change our initial plans due to the news that was coming to us regarding El Salvador. Honestly we got a little scared when we find out that the population was having issues with the government. By this time El Salvador was facing a situation of curfew in many cities and had the possibility of entering into a civil war. We decided to do the check in at the counter and for that we had to leave the airport (We bought the second ticket close to the date of our travel, so the ticket was not the same) – and I’m glad we made it, otherwise we would have never had contact with the real airport. At this time we were lucky because we did not pay the visa that was required to get out of the airport (in the immigration they realize that we are going to catch a flight right away). As we were going down the stairs toward the arrivals started to hear a lot of chirping … the sound of birds was immense: we were on the street, arrivals are outdoors!
And with a lot of heat, we finally, arrived to Guatemala.
Antigua,“It is a colonial city that enchants its visitors with its small and colorful houses, surrounded by volcanoes (…)”
Once we reached the country we set off towards Antigua, a city that was once the capital. The city still has enough inhabitants and is a tourist place. One realizes why… It is a colonial city that enchants its visitors with its small and colorful houses, surrounded by volcanoes and i can’t forget the craft market, clothing and electronic devices that give enough life to town! Here we can see a lot of people using their typical costumes. Since this city offers the possibility to climb volcanoes, it seemed like a great idea right in the second day start by climbing one of them. Though I have some doubts that we would really be able to climb it – No…I’m not referring to my dizziness, but the “fantastic” idea of the driver start giving small and free doses of adrenaline to the occupants of their shuttle. This because he thought the speed limit was too strict to be followed (driving 60Km / h above the legal limit) and occasionally seemed to have memory lapses, forgetting that we were on a two-way road and for this reason should not exceed the cars in the curves. But … Yeah! We arrived! The shuttle stop halfway. The path is quite affordable and has lots of vegetation – which for me was great because it was decreasing the feeling of altitude. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, it was not allowed to climb to the top of Pacaya Volcano because of its last eruption: the ground is still unstable and warm. Said that, “we limit ourselves” eat marshmallows melted with the heat from the ground: Now yes … The vertigo!
San Pedro La Laguna,“The atmosphere is very peaceful (…) For those who have several days to spend I advise to stay in this area of Lake Atitlán.”
After climbing a volcano nothing better than eating a taco and walk the rest of the day “shake ass” – this expression never before had as much sense as this country…any trip we make in this country our bottom shakes, literally – towards San Pedro La Laguna. It takes you six hours to do this path and its full of curves and descended a immense fog, but the driver is very fearceless! This place is completely different from Antigua, with its own characteristics. The atmosphere is very peaceful, with a sort of hippie community. During the day you can hear a lot of Trance or Psy Trance music, it is a place where many of its visitors walks on the streets barefoot and Ah! The smell of “freedom” can also be felt in some places. The environment at night is truly lovely! We were close to New Year’s Eve and you could feel it in the air. So, during the night. I woke up and started to scream to my friend, with strong jolts, thinking that there was a huge storm but after all was only firework that was released from the rooftop at 04am.
We decided to explore one of the Pueblos which is near to San Pedro La Laguna, so we set off in a small boat toward Panajachel. Even if you feel movement of people in San Pedro, Panajachel is a more touristic zone. I was finishing my mojito in Panajachel on the edge of Lake Atitlán, when I notice that it was getting very agitated and for this reason we decided to return. The trip to San Pedro was made in a boat even smaller, which seemed hungry for throwing its passengers to the lake. With our lifejackets and with eyes wide open there was us: my constant laughter was constrasting with the nervous smile of my friend who desperately just said “Oh Rita!!! You are not realize! This is full of cracks! “But the same didn’t seem to bother the crew from the boat that was quietly taking off the water with the help of a bucket and cloth. For those who have several days to spend I advise to stay in this area of Lake Atitlán. There are a few Pueblos that you can explore, and the atmosphere is really relaxed and charming!
Guatemala City, “(…)I leave here my attempt to make you realize that it’s not worth losing a lot of time (…)”
After discussing some possible routes, we decided to go toward the capital and later to head towards the North. Arrivals to Guatemala City we can see why some inhabitants said that they didn’t like the capital and why they said it was so dangerous: We can see some policemen, but no doubt that the military presence is much stronger – and they usually walk in groups of 4 -; many stores with bars on the door – including hairdressers with customers inside – and almost of them have some security that is always with his hand on the weapon ready for any eventuality; and there is much harassment. At noon we saw everything that the city had to offer. I had read in some blogs that it was not worth wasting too much time in the capital. But it’s something we prefer to always see with our own eyes. So I leave here my attempt to make you realize that it’s not worth losing a lot of time with the capital – it applies only to take the bus toward another location.
The fact that we are not very comfortable and the fact that we were followed for about 10 minutes may also have influenced our quick visit to the city. We took a bus with enough conditions, belonging to the company Linea Dorada. It takes you about nine hours to travel to the North side of the country from Guatemala City. While I was trying to sleep, I heard a noise: Nothing to worry about… it was just a flat tire. The thing was quickly resolved with a filling kit. When I was finally able to go back to sleep we had to leave in the bus for an inspection. They were searching for fruit! Yes, fruit … not drugs! I think that as my banana had such a painful aspect, they just to let her go – but being entering a nature reserve it is normal to have a fruit control.
(Yes! No Pictures)
Flore, “(…) Wonderful, relaxing, and lovely!”
Already in El Petén, more precisely Flores, we started to plan our day. The last day of 2015! And we could not find a better plan than to see the last setting of the sun in 2015 on top of a Mayan ruin in Yaxhá – once again my body didn’t thought this idea was funny – my body is constantly activated the “panic button”-. But I have to say it was worth it. Looking around we just saw the top of thousands of trees, and looking toward the sunset we could see the river: Wonderful, relaxing, and lovely! We did this tour with a guide, otherwise I wouldn’t know or fully understand what I was seeing. Again the price is symbolic. During the visit the guide was pointing out small situations, “Beware of the ants, do not step on! If they bite you, you only have 1.40h of life! It’s getting dark, if you see a snake do not make sudden movements! You only have 2h after the “- Ahhh! So all right!” – I thought to myself! 2 hours is the time it takes to get to the village, so it is no longer anything bad! Our lives were spared and there was still time to listen, in first person, the sound that gave rise to the call of the dinosaurs in the film Jurassic Park: Monkeys! Yes, the sound comes from monkeys and it is absolutely fascinating!
For the first day of the year 2016 we decided to visit the most famous Mayan Ruins of Guatemala: Tikal. In the way, along the road, we saw a few signs indicating some dangers, like: ants; snakes; pumas; crocodiles. So…it seems that the guide from the previous day wasn’t exaggerating that much. In this day, we also had the tour with guide and this one had Mayan ancestors. He spoke about the Maya culture in a way so impartial! It was great to hear all the explanations without anyone trying to “foist” ideas or thoughts. He didn’t deny or tried to hide in any way his roots. It was really advantageous to make the visit in a place like this, with so energy, with a local guide.
“Oh no!!! One guy tried to cheat us!” But fortunately everything was solved and once again the locals were incredible, with enormous patience: they helped us while the driver and passengers were patiently waiting for us – It took them nearly one hour until everything was resolved. A representative from agency sold us a bus ticket, but…apparently didn’t bought it in terminal. How things work: the agencies don’t have fixed prices. They are making packages depending on what we do, so everything is negotiated. When one of these packages includes travelling by bus (not in shuttle), the agencies have to ensure that there are vacancies, and then go to the bus station and buy the tickets with our names. And in this case, he didn’t.
Fronteras, Rio Dulce, “(…)I guess I never caught so much rain in my entire life!”
We arrived to Izabal, more specific Fronteras, Rio Dulce, and it was raining so heavily that is pretty much impossible to describe it. I guess I never caught so much rain in my entire life! The typical rain falling in tropical countries that when he feels, they came without sign of ending. It was night, and once again with our backpack and without a place to spend the night our salvation was the Hostel Backpacker. It is situated on the other side of the bridge– the longest bridge in the country and Central America, located on the Rio Dulce. Once I got there, I just wanted the next day to came fast, either that or go to have a few drinks at hostel bar, because I can tell you that that sleeping in that room was a nearly impossible task! There was 16 beds, but few of them were busy…I don’t know if for this reason the birds and mice felt more comfortable to walk and stay there at will or it was something normal! Other thing…the sound of the rain falling outside is very beautiful to be heard in normal occasion except when you have a very tin roof and a room just above the river! Fortunately two locals appeared, already “a little touched” but very friendly – one even covered my friend during the night with a blanket because he thought she was cold, the only drawback was that the sheet had rat fesses. Well…If they don’t have any problem to fall asleep we thought that we also wouldn’t have…and so it was! The next day everything seemed to us all too well: the place looked wonderful, the food was great and the space itself was quite exotic. I’d had only the night before. We had no opportunity to go to Livingston because the boats at the time were crossing almost 2 hours and they’re very small and without any protection: it was raining. For this reason we went to the Castillo de San Felipe and took a shuttle to Lanquín.
Lanquín, “A huge adrenaline rush is united with na immense sense of pleasure and relaxation.”
The trip took a while, since about half of the way was done on dirt roads and locals counseled to do the same during the day. We ended up being part of the way through the night, and I have to say “It gets respect!” During the night we can’t have much notion of the way, nor contemplate the nature, but what bothers us is to think that we are in the middle of nowhere and from time to time in some places we find groups of a few people standing. At that time the driver lit the light inside the shuttle. The increased about when, once again, we had a puncture. We stopped for almost 1h trying to change the tire, but everything turned out well and we had, fortunately, no more holes in the rest of the way. At one point, we stooped and one guy said that we need to exchange car. While I’m thinking “I don’t want anything bad to happen…” I was putting the bag in my back and toward to the other car – because we weren’t informed about this exchanged previously. And so…when we reached the Hostel I heard, by far, the sound of a shot and then…other. All the path offset when the next day we saw where we were hosted: El Retiro. A very relaxed hostel, when the nature prevails – right in front of the hostel we can, including, see one river. This day was further marked with our visit to Semuc Champey. A place definitely not to be missed in Guatemala! A huge adrenaline rush is united with na immense sense of pleasure and relaxation. I can certainly say that it was the best day I’ve had in this trip and in my life! In this place you can visit a cave, where the route is done using a hand: the hand that lights the way with a candle, and the other at times must be used for swimming: it’s a cave with water. Among stairs, strings, holes that provide acess to other sites, waterfalls and cave bats…It has everything to make a good dose of fun. Here I had the most romantic episodes ever. Well…I would have but my figure wasn’t so pretty: I´m in the cave, going from one bank to another, using a rope. The guide was there to help pass and while we were going through under a waterfall he grabbed me and said “Rita, és muy guapa”. Would have been a beautiful episode, it wasn’t my hair stand all forward like Samara character in the movie “The Ring” and my pants are falling because the pressure of the water.
Chichicastenango, “(…) it’s very nice walking in the streets full of colors, textiles, crafts, food and people.”
As we left from the cave, we were challenged to go down by the river’s current, using circular buoys – challenge accepted! Can relax… but not so much to the point of leaving the ass go completely down the floater – occasionally can hit some rock – and pay attention to that guide indication for paddle to shore – otherwise you can fall a cascade that have a few meters. You can also climb to a viewpoint that have a full view of the natural pools. It’s equal to the photographs that appeared on the internet: Awesome!!! Truly equal – I’m saying this but actually I just saw my friend’s picture, I wasn’t able to complete the climb. The floor is very rugged and my boots were too slippery, the combination wasn’t perfect…and yes, once again the vertigo.
With the trip near the end, we took the opportunity the last few days in Antigua. We went to a SPA in S. Teresita (there is a free shuttle) and the next day, we were the best marked in Guatemala – which is at distance of 4 hours from Antigua – situated in Chichicastenango. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s very nice walking in the streets full of colors, textiles, crafts, food and people. A little done for “Tourist see”, but at the same time we can understand why: Here we can came in touch with many natives and their rituals.