Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We arrived and met the Tikal Inn tour group, confirmed our return flight, and rode the minibus 1hr to the park, arriving around 9am. We checked in, and immediately headed out to the park with our tour guide Martin. He started with the diorama of the entire park, and then took us to the oldest buildings first. These pyramids were from the pre-classic period, and only used for ceremonies and sacrifices.
We then wound around to see some residential buildings from the classic period, reserved for the royal family. This route led us up to an amazing surprise view of the grand plaza from above - what an awesome sight! We then headed down to climb temple 2. Unfortunately, they don't let people climb temple 1 anymore, since 2 people were killed trying to walk down - it's very steep, and the steps aren't real smooth. The view from temple 2 is fantastic. The steps are very high, which was one thing going up and, depending on your opinion, either thrilling or terrifying on the way down.
We then headed over to the "Lost World" to see some of the buildings used to mark the calendar and keep track of the stars. Martin did a great job of explaining everything, drawing pictures in the dirt, and tracing the history of the area. Finally, we headed over to temple 4, the highest temple, to climb the rickety ladders to the top. The view was even more amazing - hard to believe.
The great thing about Tikal is it's sheer size. The buildings are huge, and separated by relatively large distances. Temples 2-5 all face Temple 1, and apparently are located at important compass points according to the calendar, sun, and stars. They have done a fantastic job of excavating everything.
By this time it was nearly 2, and we were getting very cranky from lack of food and sleep. We gratefully walked back to the Tikal Inn for some mediocre food, a dip in the pool, and a short nap. About 4:30 we motivated to head back to the park to watch the sunset.
By the time we found our way in, the sun was on its way down, so we headed straight to the Lost World and climbed the Astronomy temple to watch the sunset. We misjudged a bit, and had to wait nearly an hour. During the wait, we chatted with other travelers, and used Soph's binoculars to watch parrots and wild turkeys fly between the trees.
At sunset we snapped a few pics and headed down for dinner. We ate at the Jungle Lodge with some Scandinavians we met, drank a few beers, and headed back to bed.
We then headed back to the park to check out some of the ruins we missed yesterday. We started with the 1km walk to Temple 6, a bit further away from the others. Then we headed back towards the Grand Plaza, stopping to explore some residential areas on the way. We then climbed the far side of the Grand Plaza, seeing yet another great view. We relaxed a bit on the steps for a while, then headed back to the Tikal Inn to check out by one. Tom took a quick dip in the pool, and then we checked out by 12:30 - except checkout was supposed to be 11 - oops.
We then headed next door for some sandwiches for lunch. With more than an hour before our bus to Flores, Tom thought we had plenty of time, but Louisa was more attuned to Guatemalan time and encouraged haste on our part. Half an hour after we ordered, with no food in sight, we asked them to pack it to go. Unbelievably, with ten minutes to go we still had no food. Finally, after many indications of haste, we got our food to go just at 2pm, and ran for our bus. The sandwiches weren't that great, either.
We waited the usual hour in the airport, and had an uneventful flight back. We had heard that the Volcan Pacaya erupted today, but all planes were re-routed so we couldn't see it at all - bummer! After the minibus back to Antigua, we dropped our stuff and headed out for dinner at La Fonda de Calle, where we had expensive (for Guatemala) but delicious local dishes including Pollo Pepian and Cak-Iq.
The building and courtyard do not look like a church. The building is very colorful and the courtyard is walled. Inside, the altar is raised and consists of a wooden figure of a man dressed in a Western black suit with a typical black hat. This is San Simon (Saint Simon), "the evil saint." The parishioners enter at their convenience with sacks of items to offer San Simon. He prefers the local liquor (similar to Tequila) and big, fat, fresh cigars. They walk up to the altar and spray the liquor all over his figure while mumbling their prayers and taking a sip for themselves. Rather than pews, each side of the church holds four large tables. Not decorative tables, but large wooden tables. At the tables, they light candles. Each color represents a different prayer to San Simon. We lit a big yellow candle wishing good health to Tom's Dad, a large red candle for lots of love, and a sky-blue candle for good travels.
One woman dressed in a skirt, blouse and scarf tied around her head, lit a few candles, then dealt and read her Taro cards. She collected her cards, lit a few more candles, and started to smoke a huge cigar. After energetically puffing for awhile, she set the smoking cigar down as an offering for San Simon.
Outside in the courtyard, others make fires as offerings to San Simon. Most fires are ringed with big, fat cigars. One had whole, raw eggs; another candles in glass jars that exploded. The largest was not burning yet, she made sure that the offerings were evenly spread inside of the ring of cigars. The offerings included cheetos, mini crunch bars, hard candy, gum balls and vanilla wafer cookies. She left and returned shortly with a LIVE turkey. We are not talking about a small turkey either, but a big, fat one that would serve a large family for Thanksgiving. Her family held the turkey's legs and wings as she slit its neck over the offerings. The blood flow was slower than she wanted, so she continued to saw at the turkey's neck, slowly working her way to its heart. Her knife was not sharp, so the process took awhile. Meanwhile the turkey is flinching, trying to flap its wings and move its legs. Once she was satisfied with the amount of blood on the fire bed, she set the entire turkey on it. We watched as it blinked its eyes, and moved its neck to "gobble." At this point our teachers shared with us that they feed the turkey rum to make it drunk before sacrificing it. The offering of live fowl means that the person wishes another person dead. By the size of the fire and the expensive offering of a huge, fat bird and fresh flowers indicates that the offeree really, really wants someone to die.
We also walked around another local market, and bought a few bananas. We were hungry and thirsty, so we had our first experience with local french fries and a Coke served in a sandwich bag. We were a bit confused at first as to why, but we soon learned that bottles have a significant deposit cost, which is not included in the soda price. Every stall has a supply of sandwich bags just big enough to hold an entire bottle of Coke, which is poured in and drunk through a straw. Surprisingly, it works pretty well. A novel experience for us northern types.
After the afternoon session of school, we went to our second salsa lesson. Salsa music can have a very quick beat, but that adds to the challenge and the fun. And contrary to what Marcia might beleive their is more to salsa, than buying a bag of chips.
We braved the Guatemalan phone system again in the evening. We called Tom's Dad for his birthday and reached him right after he returned home from the hospital. We enjoyed hearing his voice sounding so good.
Today was one of the first days we realized just how far culturally we are from the people of this country. We simply cannot comprehend their daily lives, with their incredible manual labor to get enough to eat, simple family life in tiny huts, and complex, integrated religious worldview. Of course, they could not understand ours any better - imagine one of these men transplanted to an office in NYC! We are all humans, but we almost might as well be from different planets. One of the great things about traveling this far from home is to experience truly different ways of life, and we are starting to succeed here.
HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY, KIRA!!
In between classes we tried to catch Kira at home to wish her Happy Birthday in person but id not reach her. So, an e-card had to suffice which we sent her way during our afternoon stop at an Internet cafe.
School hosted a fiesta this afternoon for a teacher's 50th birthday party and her retirement. Amazingly the tune for Happy Birthday is the exact same in Spanish making it easy for us gringos. We celebrated with many other Guatemalan customs, such as lots of confetti to throw on each other and a piñata filled with candy, at which Louisa took a swing and broke it open.
During the amazing trip to Tikal we came across some literature about what to see and do in Guatemala. This included a description of some natural pools called Semuc Champey near the town of Coban in the middle of Guatemala. So, we checked in with a couple of travel agencies about heading there this weekend.
The countryside between Antigua and Chichicastenango consists of rolling fields of farmland with a few volcanoes towering in the distance. As we drive over one mountain we descend into the next valley with another volcano. The Guatemalan farmers work the land manually. The cut down their crops with machetes or pick them by hand. The road is dotted with men carrying huge sacks of goods on their backs and woman with gigantic baskets balanced on their heads as they walk to/from markets. Many woman or teenage girls also have a baby held onto their backs in a swath of fabric. The houses sprinkled across the hillsides are small and usually made of corrugated tin. Occasionally a village is noticeable a kilometer or so off of the main road identified by the tallest building around - the church with its steeple. Seeing the countryside reinforces the vast difference between here and home.
The market in Chichicastenango was somewhat interesting but no different than other markets, and their prices start higher (if you decide to go be sure to negotiate and don't pay more than 50% or so!). The church of Santo Tomas presents an interesting mix of religions. The church is built as most catholic churches of the late 1700's in stone with pews and a traditional catholic altar. The walls are adorned with wooden cabinets with murals that show religious stories of Franciscan monks. However the rituals in the church are indigenous with colorful altars with other icons, many tables with burning candles and other offerings. We walked around a cemetery in which one family was burning a fire with offerings for the recently deceased family member. Each tomb is painted a refreshingly bright color and most had fresh flowers.
As for Panajachel on Lake Atitlan - Don't Go. We had a cloudy, rainy day, so we saw no views, and the city is ugly. To top it off, the natives are so annoyingly persistent in trying to sell you useless things, you don't get a moment of peace. A bad experience, for us.
We braved the telephone system to call Antigua and reserve our weekend outing to Coban near Semuc Champey and the Lanquin caves. Once we found a phone card the rest was straight forward. Now we can call anywhere in Guatemala for another 26 minutes, or call the US for 3.
For entertainment on the return trip to Antigua, Mirijam from Zurich quizzed us on vocabulary and introduced us to a new game, the Antonym Game. She said a word (in Spanish) and we needed to say the antonym. Quite grueling actually, but Mirijam had the hardest part since she started in German translated to English then finally translated the word into Spanish!
We returned from the long driving adventure to discover that Mom-Tom was in the hospital for heart problems. Unfortunately we couldn't find out any more information, but shot off a bunch of emails.
Once back in Antigua, we checked out El Clauster (The Cloister) for Sophia and Gerardo. It is a beautiful bed and breakfast located in a colonial building originally constructed as an abbey. We recommend staying here for anyone who wants to explore Antigua.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:54 2008 on