Thursday, July 12, 2007

Guatemala Travels Continued

So this should mostly wrap up my travels in Guatemala. So far Buenos Aires has been great and I'll get around to writing about it soon. If anyone wants to talk, you can call me at 54-911-4823-7316 (our home line, don't leave messages cause we can't check them) or we can make a Skype date cause internet calling is my new favorite thing.

Rio Dulce

We arrived late in the evening and decided to stay in the dorms because they were by far cheaper than a private double room, which is not usually the case. This place was unlike any I´d ever seen because they made you rent each sheet and pillow you wanted to use--about $.50 plus a $1.30 deposit per item. But the room was built over the river with open screened windows on two sides, so that was nice.

The next day we walked across the longest bridge in Central America to the main part of the town. It was the first time in a long time that I was really hot. Like sweat dripping down my face hot. Gross. We spent the day bumming around, using the computers, and drink beers. That night there was a fantastic rain storm and we met some guys from Guatemala City in the hotel bar (which was quite good, open and built over the river). They invited us to their finca (farm) near Flores, which we took them up on later in the trip.


The next day, we took a beautiful two hour boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston, a town on the Caribbean coast accessible only by boat. We were surrounded on both sides by lush green jungle and the water was clear and perfect.

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When we reached Livingston, the boat was met by a group of locals trying to take us to their hotels and sell us tours. We took one of them up on the hotel offer because the one we wanted to stay at was being remodeled. We ended up in a really cheap place that had hammocks in the courtyard so that was nice. The guy also told us about lots of cool sounding things going on that evening, so we were really excited. We went and had some great shrimp salads and beers to get the party started.

Unfortunately, things did not quite turn out as we hoped. We went out in search of the bar where we´d heard there would be live music and on the way were joined by a local guy who said he´d walk us there. We got there and were the only people in the entire place. Since we were with this guy who knew the owner, we thought it would be rude to leave, so we ordered some drinks. Then the power went out and we really couldn´t leave because we didn´t have a light and didn´t know where to go. The guy sat around talking with us and then asked Lisi to buy him a drink. At first, she thought she heard him wrong and said "what?" He repeated it and she laughed in his face then said yes. This set the tone for the evening. Everywhere we went, all the locals asked us to give them stuff. "Give me a cigarette, buy me a drink, buy me some food...." It got to the point where we didn´t want to talk to locals anymore and ended up in the outside corner table of the disco surrounded by foreigners, which felt bad and weird as well because we were creating such an exclusive environment. It was a really strange night.

As we were leaving the disco, we ran into some guys from Guate that were also staying in our hotel and we decided to buy some beers and go back to drink them in the courtyard. This too, seemed like a better idea than it actually was. We were having a fun time until one of the guys started really hitting on Lisi. It was funny for maybe the first ten times, but after that it got old, then annoying, and by the hundredth time, just creepy. So we went to bed and the guy followed us into our room. We tried to get him to leave and finally ended up having to physically push him out of the room. But even this didn´t solve our problem because he came back at least four times in the next couple hours, knocking on the door and saying "Lisi, open the door..." Adding to our problems was the fact that the fan in our room was broken. Luckily, we had headphones on and finally went to sleep. When we ran into him briefly the next day, he was really embarrassed, so that´s good.

The next day, we made plans to do nothing, which was really nice. I read all of The Kite Runner in a hammock and we ate a lot of seafood and drank beer and kokolocos (cold coconuts with rum inside them). One of the best things to eat in the world is called tapado, a seafood soup the town is famous for. It includes a whole fish, lotsa shrimp, a small crab cut in half, and maybe some clams, squid, etc in a cilantro and coconut broth.

For our last day in Livingston we decided to go on a walking tour of the town, jungle, and beach with the guy that brought us to our hotel the first day. It seemed like it would be good to learn some facts and history of the area. He said that he would be at the tour office ever morning at 9:00, so whenever we wanted to do it, show up. We had breakfast and waited for him until 10:00, at which point we decided to go on our own.

We found the beach and it wasn´t quite what one pictures when they imagine the Caribbean coast.

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But we had a nice long walk down it anyhow. We must have gone at least a couple hours. Finally we came to a restaurant and went to have a cold beverage in the shade. This is what absolutely everyone who came walking down the beach did as well. We then continued on until we reached our goal, the Seven Altars waterfalls. We knew in advance that it hadn't rain enough recently and the falls weren't flowing, but thought they'd be worth checking out anyhow and some guys we'd met said there was a nice place to swim. Just before we got to the entrance, a strange guy came up to us. He didn't really talk to us but assumed a position in front of us like a guide and then paid our entrance fee. We felt really strange about that and told the guy taking money that'd we'd rather pay our own. So into the forest we went, with the creepy guy always just slightly ahead of or behind us. Afterawhile, we realized that he really was waiting for us all the time and it felt strange so we left. We really didn't want to have this guy watching us swim in the middle of the jungle.

On the way back, we stopped for a break in paradise.

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This is one of the most perfect places I have ever been.

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Another lovely boat ride--oddly, I kept falling asleep on this one--then a
five hour bus trip--even though it was a second class bus and they're not supposed to oversell seats, I had to stand for the first hour or so--and we arrived in Flores.

Flores is a really strange place. It's basically on a island in a lake, but it's connected to the mainland by a bridge. I don't think anyone really lives there, it's pretty much just a place for tourists. But it's really cute and everyone who visits loves it.

We stayed at the nicest place there for about $5 each/night. We had a tv, our own bathroom, and they cleaned the room everyday, something that almost never happens. Flores felt like a vacation. We spent an entire day just drinking beer and eating at lakeside restaurants, jumping in for a swim whenever it struck our fancy.


The main purpose of our trip to Flores was to visit the Mayan ruins in the jungle at Tikal. We decided to do the sunrise tour because everyone said it was the most amazing thing they'd ever done. This meant getting up at 3:00 am even though we didn't manage to get to sleep before 12:30.

So we drug our asses out of bed and into the van to take us to Tikal, about an hour and a half away. We tried to sleep on the way there and were more or less successful but still very tire on arrival. They dropped us off near the base of the tallest tower and we climbed to the top. Unfortunately, it was really cloudy and the tower was being remodeled so there was scaffolding everywhere. This was not at all what we were expecting--though we could have forgiven the cloud, if not the construction--and did not get things off to an exciting start the way I was hoping it would.

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(Familiar?--this was used in Star Wars)

The rest of the day we spent in somewhat of a daze, climbing tower and hiking through the jungle. Our tour had at least twenty people on it and the guide didn't really tell us much history about the way people lived when the city was alive. This is what we'd really appreciated about the tour in Copan Ruinas, Honduras and it made us not like Tikal as much as we might otherwise have. Also, the guide kept telling us that five years ago people used to be allowed to go inside this and that structure but that they were all closed to the public now because too many people had done graffiti. And that's something I'd really wanted to do, so I was quite disappointed.

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Around 11:00 it started getting hot and raining and we were done. We hadn't had the forsight to bring snacks or anything but water, so having been up for eight hours without eating we were starving. We left the park, ate at a comedor, then got the next shuttle home. This time we slept really well and then got to the hotel and had a nap.

The Finca

The next day, Zorra, one of the guys from Rio Dulce picked us up and took us to the finca. The three of us were the only people there, besides the workers who had their own houses on the property. (It actually belongs to the family of one of his friends, Pepe who we'd met previously in Flores. Pepe and his dad worked there for most of the month but had gone back to Guate that weekend for a wedding.) We filled an ice chest with some beers and went for a boat ride. The finca was on the same lake as Flores, just on a very different part. You couldn't see one place from the other.

The next day, we did all the things we'd been wanting to do. Went for a horseback ride, used a machete to try to chop grass (we were amazed how difficult it is because we see people all the time, little kids even, carrying huge machetes and using them for their daily work). Then we went to pick up our friend Cherry Pie. Everyone has a nickname in Guatemala. Cherry and Zorra actually have the same real name, Gerardo. Cherry has his own finca with about twenty cattle and his in really in the middle of nowhere. He doesn't even have electricity and lives there about 2/3s of each month. He took us to his cow pasture and went to get the cows to show us. He and Zorra walked over to where the cows were then started making some calls. They actually made the cows come to them. It was pretty amazing.

Then we went to see his neighbors cattle and got there just in time to see baby cows get branded and their horns chopped off. The calf was about seven months old and it took a cowboy on a horse to hold its back legs, three men to hold the rope around its necks, and one guy lying completely on top of it to immobilize it enough. The owner of the finca--who used to live in Texas, speaks great English, and was a truckdriver for 17 years in the States. First, he cut off the tops of where the horns would grow with a big knife, the blood spurted out in a long stream. Then his kids passes him what looked like flat circular branding irons directly out of the fire. He put this on the cow's head a few times then switched for a hot one. After doing this on both sides, he branded the cow and let it go. We felt like we were having a really authentic experience. We also got to pet his bull, who was super nice and a brahman, so he had a hump and a big droopy flap of skin on his neck.

We also got to shoot Cherry's gun. It was Lisi's first time shooting a pistol and my first time shooting one not in a shooting range. The thing that startled us the most was how loud it was. We might or might not have actually ever hit the Coke bottle we were aiming at. The boys said we did, but they also fired a couple shots so they could have just been being nice.

The next day we had a relaxing afternoon and then took the night bus from Flores to Guate. It was an eight hour trip and a little terrible but we slept most of the second half and arrived at 6am feeling okay. We'd hoped to have some breakfast and a bit of a break before the next bus to Xela, but that didn't work out and we soon found ourselves on a very full chicken bus for the next four hours. It was fine cause we knew we were almost home, but the crappy thing was that our $2 pirated street-bought CDs, Lisi's Spanish-German dictionary, and my toiletry bag were stolen out of our bags. It's much better to have your stuff on top of the bus--it might fall off or get rained on but at least no one's going through it!

Getting into the city felt like coming home. It was really nice after three weeks of traveling to be somewhere we recognized, where we weren't lost and guessing all the time. And it was nice to see everyone again, because when I first left Xela I didn't think I'd be going back.