DAD’S TRIP TO GUATEMALA (NOVEMBER 2007)
Tue Nov 20: Landed in Guatemala City, picked up by the Radisson shuttle van, and arrived at the Radisson (in safe Zona 10, La Zona Viva) around 9:00 p.m. where Debbie & Steve (D&S) met you, checked you in (free upgrade to a corner suite) and enjoyed a night cap.
Wed Nov 21: Breakfast at San Martin. Visited Ixchel Museum (textiles) and Popol Vuh Museum (archeological) on the University Francisco Marroquin campus. Ixchel had several, new videos to watch before entering museum; had a large Christmas bizarre set up. Both museums are well done with English translations for everything – a rarity in Guatemala.
Lunch at Tacontento (good chicken and Azteca soups). A visit to Las Torres around the corner from the Radisson shows the “height of luxury” that D&S stay at when in G.C. – for $25/night (clean, though funky, with cable TV, frig, free internet, storage lockers, hot shower) in Zona 10, this cannot be beat. Happy hour at the Camino Real Westin.
Excellent Guatemalan fare for dinner at Kacao, a very nice restaurant where waiters all wear their traditional dress (shirts, pants, “wrap skirts”, head dress) and the open-air ambience (quite common in Guatemala) includes thatched roof, water and huge flower displays. Picked up exquisite dessert (3-chocolate cake) from Sainte Honore to eat along with a night cap at the Radisson.
Thur Nov 22, Thanksgiving: Breakfast at the Radisson. Private shuttle van service to Antigua (along with owner Miguel and family and Hector), an hour away. Stayed at La Casa Florencia where we had great volcanoes view from our rooms and balcony. Lunched at La Sabor del Tiempo. A tourist’s camera was stolen but quick reflexes retrieved it.
Vincy, 10, & Flor, 12, found D&S as if by radar while sitting at the window! – and Steve buys them chicken dinners (their usual meal is traditional beans, rice and tortillas). These 2 girls, dressed in their pueblo’s traditional dress, go to school in the mornings and sell textiles on the street in the afternoons. D&S met these girls on their first trip to Antigua in July 2006, and have become fast friends. For Christmas last year, D&S gave them pictures they had previously taken of them. In lieu of buying textiles from them, D&S occasionally buy them a chicken dinner at the popular Pollo Campero or a soda. We talked about the possibility of taking a “field trip” out to their pueblo later in the week. BTW, they both have cell phones! so we exchange phone numbers.
We visited La Casa del Tejido, a textile museum/workshop/store, where we had an informative tour, weaving demonstrations and enjoyed looking at the large collection of new and used textiles for sale. Met Steve at Reilly’s Irish pub. We browsed various places – jade shops, Textura (very nice textiles), huge Nim Pot (used huipiles - the traditional blouse for women - and lots of other textiles, masks, etc are for sale, but only at fixed prices), Nativa (gorgeous antique runners).
Thanksgiving dinner at Santo Domingo – monastery ruins that have been converted into a 5-star hotel and restaurant with 3 quality museums.
Fri Nov 23: Breakfast at the well known Café Condessa. Did Elizabeth Bell’s walking tour – an extremely interesting 3-hour tour of Antigua: Central Park, mayor’s office, Cathedral (new) and ruins, typical Guatemalan house (4 houses, or quadrants, to a block) now a hotel, jade factory/museum/store, her office, Santo Domingo grounds + 3 museums + crypt + candle factory w/ tour + little art gallery; they were setting up for a wedding in the outdoor chapel.
Lunch at a deli. Visited the ruins of Capuchinas (the round convent), ruins of San Francisco Monastery + the 3-part museum dedicated to the canonization of Hermano San Pedro B., the first to be canonized in Central America. Browsed various art galleries, wood shops (remember the huge pieces of beautiful furniture), jade stores. Back to Reilly’s to join Steve.
Dinner at the very nice Meson Panza Verde (means green belly, referring to all the avocados that Guatemalans eat) where we dine to the live Cuban music of The Buena Vista Social Club.
Sat Nov 24: We take a private shuttle van with guide Hector for our field trip. We first stop at Valhalla Experimental Station, an organic macadamia nut farm. We have breakfast under the macadamia trees – macadamia nut flour pancakes and butter, home grown honey, pink bananas and blueberries. Then a short tour. The macadamia’s outer “shell” is so hard that a special machine is required to crack it. The only natural predator that can penetrate the shell is the squirrel.
We then head to pueblo San Antonio Agua Caliente to meet Vincy and Flor at Central Park. They hop in the van and off we go to Vincy’s house where her grandmother is weaving on the back-strap loom on the dirt “front yard”. (Her mom is in Antigua selling textiles on the street.) We meet 2 more of her sisters (think she has a total of 3 sisters and 1 brother, but sure there will be more as her mother is young), and buy a few little textiles. We have brought Pollo Campero chicken, special bread and boxes of cookies for each family. Vincy’s grandmother is very appreciative and glad to finally meet us. We are not invited into the house, but Steve can see in the door and sees a bed, TV (electricity) and a solid floor. Next onto Flor’s house, where we meet her mother and aunt? – Flor has 12 brothers and sisters. We buy a few more little textiles and give them the food we brought. They also are so very appreciative and invite us back.
Our next stop on our field trip is to another pueblo, San L?, where Carlos has his own jade factory. We get a short but informative tour then browse his work. Steve bought a pin for his mother. Very nice workmanship. We give Vincy and Flor a ride to Antigua’s Central Park, where we part company.
We have lunch at Fonde de la Calle Real in their courtyard. The afternoon is leisurely.
Dinner at La Pena del Sol Latina (owned by a cruising couple), in a converted colonial house and atrium dining. We’re entertained by the group Sol Latina, which plays Andino (Peruvian) music with those wonderful pan flutes (bamboo type flutes, about a dozen of varying lengths tied together). Owner Bill plays the bongo-type drums – the main reason they bought the place is so he can play drums! He is certainly in his element when he plays.
Sun Nov 25: Breakfast at La Casa Florencia. Leisurely shopping at Colibri (quality textiles), La Casa del Jade store + museum and various art shops. Had trouble navigating 5th Avenue due to big dance contest in the middle of the street on stage.
Dinner at Queso Y Vino. Zacapa Rum on our room balcony.
Mon Nov 26: Waiting for our transportation outside, Debbie takes a picture of an older local women in traditional dress waiting across the street – but Debbie had to pay for the photo (65 cents), which is typical. We take a squashed shuttle van (breakfast pastry on the go) through the agricultural flatlands before meandering through the mountains to Panajachel, located on the east shore of Lake Atitlan. During the ride, we chatted with 2 girls from Scotland (they’re both substitute doctors) and a guy from Israel.
From Panajachel we took a private water taxi to La Casa del Mundo (near Jaibalito), built on the side of a cliff. It’s a tough trek up their stone steps to the main building but the view is worth it. Fortunately our rooms are near the main building (restaurant), as many rooms are located way up the cliff, a climb made harder when dark. Spectacular lake and volcanoes views are seen from both our rooms, restaurant, various seating areas and the hot tub. We have lunch there (as there is no where else to eat, but fortunately the food is quite good). Afternoon is spent doing Sudoku, reading, hammock time, napping, etc.
Dinner is a group thing at one long table with candlelight. We met people from Australia, Scotland, Denver – former sailors but now living next door to La Casa del Mundo. D&S do the hot tub after dinner which has been filled with fresh water and heated all afternoon – a fire box in the tub stoked with wood is used to heat the water.
Tue Nov 27: Breakfast at La Casa del Mundo. Then their lancha takes us south across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, an inlet nestled between the volcanoes, which is known for their traditional dress – even the men wear it. It is also known for its large textile market (shops and street vendors). Here you have to negotiate hard: After the initial asking price is made known, offer about 25% and then dicker from there. D&S bought a wood mask (that may go in the middle of a huipile that’s in the condo) and traditional skirt material (to make a pillow sham for our guest bed pillows).
We take a tuk-tuk to Posada Santiago for lunch, which is on the outskirts of Santiago Atitlan. D&S have stayed here before, with nice grounds and bungalows. From our table, we have a perfect view of the locals passing by on the street: All in traditional dress, men carrying bundles of wood on their backs and women carrying the usual baskets and bundles, pickup trucks packed with standing locals, tuk-tuks ferrying tourist and locals alike, machete toting men, etc. Debbie had her camera ready as she tried to get that perfect candid shot. Our lancha picks us up at the Posada’s dock and takes us back to La Casa del Mundo for an afternoon of rest and relaxation on the porch between our rooms – and a fire in our outdoor fireplace at happy hour.
A group dinner again, although not as many guests tonight. Dad had an interesting conversation with a young couple from Israel – she is an attorney and he is a cargo pilot for the Israeli army. D&S then shared the hot tub with them (everyone else pooped out) – the hot tub had been drained, cleaned, refilled and heated for this evening.
Thur Nov 29: Basic breakfast at an Argentinean restaurant. We take a crowded shuttle van from Flores to Tikal, an hour ride, through El Remate (on eastern shore of the lake) and tiny settlements and the dense jungle. We stay at Tikal Inn, located in Tikal Park. They had messed up our room reservations so we were given nice bungalows upstairs, backing up to the jungle and overlooking the pool.
We got private park transportation to the Grand Plaza, where we all climbed Temple 2 (Temple of the Masks, 125 ft. without roofcomb) and took in the enormity and beauty of this magnificent plaza area. Then we wandered around the Grand Plaza: North Acropolis (over 100 structures, some dating to 400 BC; huge 10 ft. mask carved into the rock); looked at various stelae and altars; explored the Central Acropolis with it’s maze of small rooms which is believed to have been a residential complex of Tikal’s nobility, and where the archeologists first stayed a hundred years ago; and, awed at Temple 1 (Temple of the Grand Jaguar), the most photographed structure at Tikal (can’t climb nowadays because too many tourists have fallen off). We met an extended Guatemala family who lives in Guatemala City and the Rio Dulce who had never been to Tikal, as I’m sure most Guatemalans have not. Saw spider monkeys swinging silently through the trees.
Back at the visitor’s center, saw scale model of Tikal – unbelievable all the structures that have been discovered in recent years. Visited the “archeological” museum with original and replica stelae and altars. The most interesting thing, though, were the photos taken when the archeologists began to unearth the various pyramids and then the periodic progress towards a perfectly “clean” pyramid/temple. Incredible photos showing huge trees and dense jungles growing out of the top of these structures (which actually helped preserve them over hundreds of years). In some cases, it took 5 years just to clear the vegetation before the digging could begin. There are so many structures there, and limited resources, that it will take a very long time just to expose the other structures in Tikal central. Spent late afternoon at the pool. Lots of Loire parrots (the green ones) fly overhead in pairs (they mate for life) – they are easy to spot by their noisy squawking and graceless flight.
Dinner at Tikal Inn. Electricity is on in the evening from 6:00 – 10:00 (actually went off at 10:30). After that you have to use flashlights. (Tikal Park has no electricity at all. The three park inns provide their own power with generators.)
Fri Nov 30: We left Tikal Inn at 5:00 a.m. by flashlight (electricity is on only from 6 a.m. – 8 a.m.) in the morning. We had private park transportation and a guide and headed off to Temple 4 for sunrise. (Technically, a temple is a small house-type structure atop a 4-sided pyramid.) As we stood in the dark, the jungle came alive first with the howler monkeys waking up to the twilight. Their very loud howl, or roar, echoing throughout the jungle made them seem very close to us. Then the birds woke up. Among others we saw a motmot (pretty blue and orange bird with a long “segmented” tail), toucans, Loire parrots, blue-headed white-breast parrots. Our English-speaking guide was quite a birder, recognizing a multitude of bird songs and would mimic them back.
Our tour included:
- Temple 4, the highest structure in Tikal at 210 ft. and the second largest in the Western hemisphere;
- The Lost World complex with 38 structures and a huge central pyramid that D&S previously climbed (no stairway, so D&S previously had to climb the actual big, steep, stone steps, possibly slippery from moisture and moss growth), which is now closed as 5 tourists have recently fallen down it and one died – this pyramid, with no temple atop, was built over 4 other similar temples, the oldest dating to 700 BC, making this the oldest Mayan structure in Tikal;
- Next door, the Plaza of the Seven Temples (aligned perfectly with other temples for solstice, equinox, etc.) and the triple ball courts;
- Temple 5 with its unique rounded corners, and atop a tiny 3 ft. deep temple but with walls 13 ft. thick;
- Back to the Grand Plaza for more history (we had been there the day before on our own);
- Group G, a palace for royalty, with an entrance through a huge monster’s mouth to the vaulted tunnel (known as the Palace of Windows).
Back to Tikal Inn for a light breakfast and relaxing around the pool. Buffet lunch at the Jungle Lodge. Walked to the gigantic Ceiba tree (the “tree of life” for the Mayas). Visited the other museum with artifacts found in the various graves and elsewhere (e.g., pottery, jade, jewelry of jade/shells, sacrificial animals), actual grave contents as it was originally found under a pyramid, and a spectacular stela. We are reminded that the Mayas did not know metal (tools were made primarily from obsidian) and they did not know the wheel (although may have used tree trunks to move, or roll, huge stone blocks around.
More relaxing at the pool before dinner at the Inn.
Sat Dec 1: A leisurely start to the day. Lots of parrots in the morning flying overhead, in pairs. Lunch at the Jaguar Inn before catching a private shuttle van to the Flores airport. Pass time doing Sudoku and reading. Fly TACA back to Guatemala City and back to the Radisson (free upgrade to a corner suite again) and Las Torres (this time D&S got their favorite room).
Dinner at Pecorino’s, a great Italian restaurant in a lovely covered, outdoor patio setting with hot-pots to take the chill off. Had a wonderful salmon florentina, and too full for dessert only had a night cap in hotel lobby.
Sun Dec 2: Breakfast at the Radisson. Visited the National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology – scale model of Tikal, lots of (painted) pottery, stelae, altars, and more on textiles and other cultural things.
Next we took a spin through the zoo – primarily to see the howler monkeys that, unfortunately, are no longer living there. But we did see spider monkeys (and a brand new baby), white-faced capuchin monkeys, macaws, jaguar (sleeping), puma, lion, etc. But perhaps the most entertaining was an elephant that insisted on walking on the very edge of the retaining wall/embankment/moat, carefully placing each foot in front of the other in a specific order. The next step was with his front left foot, but when this foot encountered a rock obstacle straight ahead, it searched for alternate footing (which was simply airspace to his left). He backed up and tried again, never able to find footing for his front left foot. He repeated this over and over, unable to vary his steps from the usual. Finally, he did a 180 degrees turn (almost on a dime at the edge!) and proceeded in the opposite direction.
Across the street was an artisans craft market, featuring everything from cheap stuff to some nice shops. We lunched on the premises at a nice restaurant enjoying a delicious Argentinean sausage.
Back to Zona 10 where we browsed jade stores (still looking at the jade mask), bookstores, mall, etc.
Dinner at Sainte Honore. Night cap back in Dad’s room.
Mon Dec 3: D&S had medical appointments and errands to run. Dad revisited the jade store (and mask) and copied article, found the bookstore, and had lunch with Steve at the Gourmet Deli.
Dinner at Tanoshii – sushi, sashimi, tempura and saki. We couldn’t resist returning to Sainte Honore for 2 pieces of their decadent triple chocolate cake (very chocolaty, but not overly sweet) that we took back to our rooms.
Tue Dec 4: We saw you off at 7:45 a.m.. You probably arrived in Dallas just after noon. Meanwhile D&S had tickets for the 10:00 a.m. bus back to the Rio Dulce. The bus was “broken” so we had to wait for a replacement bus, which arrived around 12:30, so we didn’t get home to ARGO until 6:30 that night.
T H E E N D