Tag Archives: guatemala

Rio Dulce, Flores & Tikal

Rio Dulce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARio Dulce, meaning Sweet River,  is a river in Guatemala. We stayed at a hotel called Tortugal which we accessed by boat. We stayed in bungalows that were on stilts above the river and it was just amazing. A great spot to relax, sunbathe, swim and enjoy happy hour cocktails.

A worthwhile activity to do from Rio Dulce is to visit the hot springs. I think they are called Finca El Paraiso and can be found near the small town of El Estor. From the car park it is a short ten minute hike in.  The river is ‘cold’ water, by that I mean it is called cold water but is actually quite warm by the standards of a Tasmanian. The water from the waterfall however is hot, and I genuinely mean hot, close to boiling. It’s absolutely awesome to swim around and then be massaged by the falling hot water from the waterfall.

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Flores

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur visit to Flores was an overnight stop on the way to Tikal. We arrived in the evening and left at 5am. We stayed in a lakeside resort with a gorgeous view. For dinner we wandered over to the town which was on another little island, we saw a beautiful sunset, some super cute little buildings and enjoyed happy hour at a roof top bar.

I imagine it would be a nice place to spend a half or full day, but it is otherwise quite a small place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tikal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATikal is another Mayan archaeological site, but compared to the others we had visited it was a great deal bigger and felt a bit more raw and natural. Each temple was a short jungle hike away from the next. We only saw about 2% of the park as it is simply enormous. The site is over 400 square kilometres and is in Guatemala, but reasonably close to the border of Belize.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATikal is a more recent name given to the site and it means “Voices of the Spirits”. The jungle in which the site can be found makes all sorts of noises, particularly eerie are the howler monkeys. It was from these noises that it got the name Tikal. Its real name however, is Mutul.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany people believe that the Mayans regularly made sacrifices to the gods, particularly human sacrifice. In later years and in other places human sacrifice became more prominent in the culture, however at the when Tikal was inhabited it was not very common and was only done for very special occasions. An example is when someone wins a particular type of ball game. They person who wins is honoured with being sacrificed to the gods. They are cut below the rib, then green obsidian is used to cut through everything else to make a passage to the heart. Then they reach in and pull out the heart to sacrifice, they burn it as incense and the smoke will rise up and appease the gods.

All the temples we saw were simply stunning, and it’s always such a wonder that they were able to create such large and beautiful structures with none of the tools we have today. They really were very innovative!

In addition to the stunning buildings, the jungle was just gorgeous. We were lucky enough to see spider monkeys, grey foxes and toucans. We briefly heard howler monkeys but only at a distance.

Check out all my photos on Flickr

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Antigua

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAntigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Guatemalan highlands at 1500 metres above sea level. It was founded in the early 16th century. Like Lake Atitlan it is in an earthquake prone region surrounded by volcanos. There was a large scale earthquake in 1773 which destroyed almost the entire city. Much of Antigua was rebuilt, though some of the old monuments remaining.

The city has an Italian/Spanish influence and like so many other towns has such character in the buildings and cobbled streets. It’s just fantastic to wander and explore. I spent quite some time getting lost in the streets and have loads of awesome pictures of the different streets, doorways and ruins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPacaya Volcano

For US$20 and a national park entrance fee of 50 quetzales, a group of five of us did a half day tour to the Pacaya Volcano. It’s roughly a 1.5 hour bumpy drive from Antigua.

The hike is not overly challenging and is 6 kilometers return. As you might imagine the hike there was uphill and the return was downhill. Despite having a terrible, uninterested guide, the hike was pretty awesome and we were all glad we did it.

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We thought we would be walking to the crater, but this was not actually the case. We walked to a viewing platform of sorts and then descended a short distance to the base of the 2010 lava flow.

It was interesting to see the lava flow and all the broken chunks of volcanic rock. At the very base there was a small hole in which we were able to roast marshmallows. Despite being quite some distance from the actual craters edge, it was incredible how hot the air coming from the lava flow was.

Coffee Plantation Tour

A group of ten of us booked a private tour to the Azotea Coffee Plantation. The transport cost 30 Quetzales and entrance to the plantation with guided tour was 50 Quetzales, all up the trip was approximately 2.5 hours.

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The tour was throughly fascinating and we had a brilliant guide. I learned some very interesting things along the way.

Coffee was discovered accidentally in Ethiopia when a farmers goats ate the beans and then couldn’t sleep and were incredibly energetic. Coffee is rated in terms of quality and production. For quality the top three producers are Ethiopia, Kenya and Guatemala. For production, or quantity, the top three are Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two main types of coffee, the first is Arabica which is grown in the shade, allowing the coffee to be a better quality, but it doesn’t produce a great quantity as it can only be harvested once a year. The second type is Robusta, which is grown in the sun and can be harvested twice a year, which leads to higher production quantities.

When coffee beans are red they are ready to be picked. This is called a coffee cherry. Each cherry contains 2 beans, though occasionally a cherry will contain just one bean, in which case it is referred to as peaberry coffee. The beans are stripped of their husks to access the bean itself, before being roasted. Beans are typically roasted to medium, medium dark or dark roast. Once roasted they are ready to be ground and prepared to drink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of the tour we got the opportunity to taste a standard medium dark roast, which was a bit strong for me, and a peaberry coffee which had a more subtle flavour.

The plantation owner from the year 1912 onwards, Alberto Orive Del Pando has been quoted as having said “Coffee should be black as night, strong as passion, sweet as love and hot as hell”. I still like my coffee sweet and white, but I think he did a great job with the plantation as they continue to produce great coffee!

Check out all my Antigua photos on Flickr

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Panajachel & San Jorge, Guatemala

After quite a long day of transit and a border crossing, we found ourselves in the lakeside village of Panajachel in Guatemala, on the shore of Lake Atitlan.

Atitlan is a word that means “place of water”. It is a lake in the Guatemalan highlands, at an altitude of 1564meters above sea level, which has a rough size of 130 square kilometers. The area around Lake Atitlan is near the meeting point of three tectonic plates and experiences regular earthquakes, they say daily, though I didn’t feel any. The lake is also bordered by three large, now dormant, volcanoes: San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman. These provide the most amazing view of course.

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Panajachel

From our base in Panajachel we made a few minor excursions but otherwise took it quite easy. The town of Panajachel has a population of around 11,000 and is really cute and the people are very friendly. There are loads of market stalls by the side of the road and the sellers have some quite lovely items, though none of the sellers are excessively persistent for which I am grateful. For the coffee lovers Cafe Loco is worth a visit. I wasn’t fortunate enough to go as it was closed when I popped by, but some friends went and I heard reports that the coffee was genuinely AMAZING! Sunset cafe by the lakeside is a fabulous location, and the service was good, but the hotel restaurant a block above it is actually a bit better. In front of the sunset cafe is a great ‘mirador’, viewpoint, to take pictures of the lake and volcanoes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the mirador it is easy to access the public jetty, it was here that we rented a private boat for our group of 12, to cross the lake to visit the villages of San Juan and San Pedro. A group of 12 of us, a scenic route and two village stops cost us 110 Quetzales each – a bit pricey in the scheme of things, but quite cheap, much cheaper than a set tour. If you do rent a boat, be sure to go early in the day as the weather starts to crack up any time after midday and the crossing back to Panajachel can become a little rough.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASan Pedro, the village at the base of San Pedro volcano wasn’t overly exciting to me. Just another busy village, perhaps I needed to walk further in to see the real charm, but it didn’t have a great deal of character as far as I was concerned.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASan Juan on the other hand was bursting with character, colour and life. The streets were lined with market stalls of hand made artworks, paintings, tapestries, toys, etc. Also the town had loads of street art adorning the sides of buildings, which I thought was just gorgeous. All the people were super friendly and it was a very welcoming little village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favourite piece of street art was on the side of a Tortilleria (tortilla shop) and of course it depicted tortillas. It was fantastic.

A short tuk tuk ride out of Panajachel is the Atitlan nature reserve. We didn’t have enough time to tackle the zip lines through the forest unfortunately, but we did do a short nature walk to see some of the forest, walk across swinging bridges, visit a butterfly house and my favourite…watch the spider monkeys swinging in the trees.

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San Jorge Homestay

In the afternoon of our second day in Panajachel, we packed up our stuff and headed a little further around the lake and into the hills a bit to the village of San Jorge, where we were paired up and sent to stay with a Mayan family overnight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASan Jorge is a village of approximately 3000 people. The people speak the Mayan language Kaqchikel, which is a very challenging language with many interesting guttural noises. The primary industry for people living in San Jorge is construction. The men are considered the primary workers, the women of course work just as hard, but at different things, such as having babies, managing stores, making jewellery, tapestries and paintings to sell at the markets and other such things.

Our family, Alejandra, Juan and some of their children, welcomed Anthony and I into their home, near the center plaza of San Jorge. Alejandra and Juan have been married for forty years, they have eleven children, six of whom have moved out of home, married and produced 8 grandchildren. Of the five children who still live at home the youngest three are still attending school and the older two work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe home we stayed in was small, but comfortable, there were two rooms for homestay guests, of which Anthony and I had a room each. The opened on to an open courtyard. At the front of the courtyard was a big sink for preparing food, washing dishes and other general household uses. At the back of the courtyard were the shower and toilet. To the right was the dining room, from the dining room, the room to the left was the family bedroom (I assume) and to the right was the kitchen.

When we arrived we chatted for a bit in broken Spanish to learn about our host family. Alejandra and her daughter Angelica dressed me up in traditional costume, and then Anthony and I went out to explore the town. It is a very poor village, but the people and the children were all so happy and welcoming. I received many comments and compliments on my outfit; and all the children we saw wanted to play with us and have their picture taken.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we returned home we were given mugs of Pinol to drink, it’s a local hot drink, the nearest description of which would be sweet corn tea. Our pinol was accompanied with the main meal of Polique (a thick corn and chicken soup), boiled chicken, carrot and choco (otherwise known as water potato, though I had never heard of such a thing), served with tamalito (a corn bread that is steamed in leaves) for dipping into the soup. The meal was a very traditional one, one that is often served at parties and weddings. We certainly felt that this was a more lavish dish than they would normally have, but they were very proud to share with us meals that are considered traditional. It was delicious!

By this stage everyone was exhausted and we had an early night. The morning was quite short as we needed to depart by 8am. Our host mother had gotten up early to prepare fresh tortillas served with refried black beans and scrambled eggs, served with a cup of coffee, that tasted remarkably like the pinol.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe homestay experience is always extremely awkward due to the inability to communicate effectively, but it is always an interesting experience and it really is one of the best ways that you can learn about a culture. It’s also a good way to give back to the community, they get paid for hosting people, they may receive donations and sometimes people buy the products they make – I bought some beaded bracelets.

After our hearty breakfast we piled into the bus and headed for Antigua.

 Check out all the photos on Flickr

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