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Tikal

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Tikal

 

The next morning I was waken up by some Norwegian girls in a nearby room that started to chat loudly, probably after some drinks around 2:00am. The bus came promptly at 3:30am and we were on our way to one of the greatest archaeological site, Tikal. The distance from Flores and Tikal is 62km and it takes the bus around 1 hour to get to the ruins in pitch dark. The sky was full of stars a great view from the top of the Tikal pyramids. There were several buses who came there and a lot of people. The guides carried flash lights on their foreheads and we started after some organization with a number of guides to the top of Templo 4 where we were supposed to wait and, mainly, listen the sounds of the jungle waking up. The walk in the forest was not so easy without flashlight, stumbling occasionally, and hearing howling monkeys that were defining their territory.

We started to ascend of the pyramid and at 5:45 am we were all, close to 30-40 people on top of Templo 4 where we listened in silence till about 6:20 am the sounds of the jungle. This was an impressive moment. You could hear the howling monkeys, the birds and some other animals, all in the darkness that started to dispel. Unfortunately, inside the jungle you cannot see a sunrise. You may be barely able to see the next temple in front because of the morning mist. The guide, Louis, gave us some instructions and we started to explore the site at 7:00am. He showed us the howling monkeys, that he make them howl imitating them perfectly, a sound that first you think that is from a jaguar. Animal abound: howling monkeys, spider monkeys, all on top of the canopy of the trees, wild turkeys, toucans, parrots, ocomundi, and lots of other animals. Meanwhile Louis was bringing us to various monuments talking about Tikal that means in the local language “the place of sounds”, its history, its disappearance, etc. What is different in Tikal is that fact that only the temples were cleaned and its surroundings and squares. The rest was left as tropical forest and you walk its paths and admire the vegetation. This gives the site a mysterious air, very different from the naked places like Chichen Itza or Uxmal. But everything comes with a price. The major disadvantage of this is the fact that is not so easy to shoot and take pictures in Tikal. The tour lasted 3 hours till 10 am. Because Tikal is so big and it was so early you don’t have the feeling that it was swamped by tourists. We visited all the important monuments and finished in the Grand Plaza in front of the Temple of Jaguar and the temple of the Mask, the only area that was completely uncovered, plaza included. The place is majestic and what is missed in mystery gains in stupendous views of temple architecture. I climbed on temple of the mask and I shot lots of video and photos here where it was easier that inside the jungle. Tikal was a huge city and I was surprised the next day to find out that Caracol was even bigger. Probably in the peak time the population was way larger than is today on a surface of 237 square kilometers. All these cities and their temples together with their civilization went in demise around 900AD for reasons that are still speculated. Louis gave us each a ticket to stay and go when we please and told us that the first bus to Flores is at 11:00 am, followed by 12:30, 2, 3, 4 and 5pm. I started to walk around and take pictures, climbing inside the side palaces and decided to take the 2:00pm bus. I walked to the Northern complex, P, Q, and R and came back tired and soaked in sweat because it started to be very hot. Drank some juice and decided to go to the bus of 12:30 still undecided if to go so early and leave from such a great place like Tikal. The bus helped me because it left just before my eyes so I returned and I went to see temple 6, Templo de Los Inscriptiones, and another Palacio nearby, the last two things that I could not see in the morning from the ruins. For this you walk inside the tropical forest again and is a delight to look at the abundant vegetation. It is obvious that is no delight when you want to clean an area inside the forest.I took the 2:00pm bus, after I came earlier not to miss it again and I arrived at 3:00pm in Flores.

I took some quick shots inside the town , grabbed my backpack from the hotel, waved a tuk-tuk who for Q5 brought me to the terminal. The night before I tried to find out how can I get by myself to Belize. There are only two direct buses at 5:00am and 7:30 am to Belize City for $20. Otherwise you can take a bus to Melchoir de Mena , at the border, walk over the border and take a bus till 5:30 pm or a taxi latter on. My minibus left at 3:40 pm and stopped in the market till 4:00pm when he left. He was driving like a maniac with 120km/hour the reason being that half the road closer to the boarder is gravel and there he was slowing down seriously. The next day I found out that this road is prone to armed robbery, a driver I spoke with being robbed 4 times on this road in 20 years, a rate that he thought that was reasonable. The bus dropped many passengers on the way, is the local bus, and arrived at the border at 6:00pm. He showed me where to go and when I got of I was assaulted by money changers, who would change money at the official rate $1=2Belize $, the Belize $ being pegged to the US$. I refuse to change and I walked over the bridge and into the Guatemala immigration office that again asked for the same Q10 with no receipt.

I went further to the Belize border where I was greeted in English, Belize being till 1981 the colony of British Honduras. No problems at the border and no money to pay. Outside there were guys with taxis, that have posted rates in US$ and Bez$ and to San Ignatio is US$15 that I negotiated right away for $10 and I left with a Guatemalan guys who did not speak English. He did not have a receipt and he was very nice to go to a store to get one. We chatted about Belize and Guatemala and I found out that many people from Guatemala leave here if they can because you make more money, 1Bz$=Q3.5. We arrived in San Ignation very fast, the distance being 12 miles from the border and I went directly to a travel office to talk about the next day tours. There were no tours for Caracol, the largest Maya site in Belize, and the only option was the famous cave ATM, considered one of the most interesting trips in Belize. I asked also about transportation and it turned out that there are no direct buses from San Ignatio to Orange Walk, and buses from Belmopan to Dagriga that run all days for about 3 hours. I had to ponder over the options so I went to find a hotel, and I looked for Martha’s guesthouse that was full and I got a room across the street at Hi-Et guesthouse where a Canadian named Steve, living there, gave some tips for tours. I took a quick shower and went back in town to check the agencies and after some research I found an agency called Pacz tours, where I am now writing this blog, who told me that they will take me to ATM for $75 but do have Caracol either. I said that is fine but I want to see if I can get to go to Caracol, and I went again for a search and research, and when I came back empty handed they told me that a guy just came to go to Caracol and he was looking for me in town. The deal was done and I paid $80 for the trip for the next day, started to write the blog and went to eat at a Sri Lankan-Belize restaurant that was really very good. I did not want to walk latter on in the city because the trip to Tikal and the whole process to come over the border was extremely tiring. I was in Tikal, walking continuously in heat for 8 hours, and this not taking in consideration that I woke up at 3:00am and I did not have breakfast. Meanwhile I read the guide and seeing the difficulties I have with the transportation in Belize, less efficiently connected comparing with Guatemala, I decided that I will skip going to the South to Dangriga, to visit the Garifuma community, and stay in the North, in San Ignatio for two days, one day in Orange Walk and two days in Caye Caulker. Final decision,,,,that can be appealed.

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Posted by on February 12, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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Livingston

 

The drive that I had to arrive by night in Rio Dulce the day before paid off and I was ready to go to the famous trip on the river that starts at 9:30 am, all the way to Livingston. I had my breakfast in the morning, a great fruit juice and some eggs and when I came back to pack a vicious pouring rain started. The sky was cloudy and it looked like I couldn’t go on the boat that is opened and it meant complete drenching. I waited for 15 minutes and talked with the host who told me that this was the way in the last 8-9 days that is called Februar loco, Crazy February. I went to Sunny who was also ready for the trip and when we kept pondering about it the rain stopped, so we decided to go and if it rains it rains. I went quickly to the Internet and also very quickly to the boat just to find out that it was leaving at 9:30am instead of 9:00am. I got the ticket RT for US$22 and it turned out that the collective boat was the only option of the day in spite of the fact that they say that exist many other tours. The problem in Guatemala is that many of the advertised tour options are depended on how many people want them and if there are not enough they go the default tour or no tour at all.

We left at 9:30am with a very fast boat that was speeding like crazy. We stopped without landing at Castel San Felipe that is just a little upstream of Rio Dulce, old fort, latter prison and now attraction. We went down river and stopped in several interesting places, a coconut place, an island that was full of birds of various colors, egrets and such, and where we could see iguanas on top of the trees, and latter to a water lily pond that was so beautiful that we kept taking lots of photos and footage. The ride was extremely beautiful and you can see fishermen, other boats and lots of birds, pelicans included that fly with or around the boat. I had a great time with Sonny remembering Keith’s stories from the night before. The boat ride is one hour direct, going all the way to Livingston, a town on the coast of the Caribbean that is the only town in Guatemala that does not have road connection, only boats. There are two ports to the Caribbean , the second being Puerto Barrio, that has also road connection. With all the stops he did the ride to Livingston took 2.5 hours and we arrived there at12:00pm. We had time till 2:00 pm and we started to explore the small town, home to a population named Garifuma, black guys from Caribbean, descendants of runaway slaves from St Vincent. They looked very Caribbean, some tall and sturdy and a lot of them spoke English. They have a specific type of music, a sort of funk rock with African influences that unfortunately we could not listen because the bars are closed during the day. I walked with Sonny talking about photography and we arrived in 10 minutes of very slow walk to the other side of town on the beach of the Caribbean. The beached are different from Saint Martin, or such, there are dirty, house are very close to the water, houses of poor people that barely hold to themselves. The sand is black and the water can be OK but being close to the mouth of the river is looking a lot like the river, being slightly muddy and not the green we dreamed about. Sonny decided that he shot enough photos and he went to eat and I went a little more to some side streets where I saw fruit stores, typical of the area, and the music bars, looking slightly Jamaican. I went to have a beer with Sunny and the waiter gave us a tip, to go and see the place where they salt the fish. We found it close to the water, and the view was impressive because on long beds there was ton of fish that was salted and given as food for animals. Interesting and smelly place! It was 2:00pm and we left for the boat, that left not before having a chat with a guy from northern Italy. The boat ride was very rough because the pilot wanted to make it in one hour and go home,l so he was jumping waves and went extremely fast. No stomach issues but it were just rough and sometimes we had to stand because it was too much bouncing. It’s bouncy in here! On the boat Sunny started to talk with two women, from Minnesota. It turned out that they were mother and daughter, Denise and Danielle, Denise coming to Guatemala to visit and see her daughter who studied Spanish in Xela for 6 months. We chat with them all the way and helped them get to the bus station when the boat got in Rio Dulce.

The boat arrived at 3:00pm and at the bus station I was told that is a bus primera classe that should come in ten minutes. I wanted to stay longer but the opportunity was too good, so I went to the hotel, said goodbye to Sonny and exchanged cards, and run to the bus stop where the bus already came. Q100 from Rio Dulce to Flores I paid right away and I got a front seat in a very comfy bus, not the regular crammed chicken bus seat. A German family was around me, and in the back Danielle with her mom. At one point the bus has a tire explosion on the back and we had to stop at one point to change the wheel. Considering the conditions of the roads in Guatemala I think that this is very common. But I was very surprised how fast they changed it considering that it was the inside wheel from the back, and I remembered the movie Cars. We left almost in 15 minutes and we talk about a huge Mercedes bus..We stopped again right away to a check point where everybody is asked to get down and the bus is checked for fruits and vegetables, a precaution to preserve, El Peten safe of outside infestation. When we crossed the bridge at the entrance in Rio Dulce we crossed also in El Peten, the large Northern part of Guatemala that is jungle, or more precise tropical forest. The old spotty ferry that was crossing the river before the bridge existed represented the connection between civilization and jungle. Nowadays a beautiful bridge spans the river and the roads in El Peten are very good.

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Flores

 

We arrived in Flores/Santa Elena with no incidents at 6:45pm in about 3 hours from Rio Dulce, instead of the 5 hours that I was told. Flores is an island, connected by a 500 meters causeway, in Lake Peten-Itza, a place that was a Maya town, inhabited by people from Chichen Itza in Mexico, from long time ago. It was destroyed by the Spaniards and transformed in a Spanish colonial town. At the other end of the bridge is Santa Elena, a useful place but where is not so nice to stay. When you arrive you are harassed by taxi drivers who want to give you a ride for Q5/person to Flores. I shared a taxi with Denise and Danielle and the driver started to ask us what we do the next day. The guy was useful and stopped us to San Juan agency where they had the tours for Tikal ruins. There are buses that leave at 5:00 and 6:00am and many others for Q60 RT but we opted to go in a very early tour that leaves Flores at 3:30am to see the waking up of the jungle. The tour is Q300 or $40 because there they decided to change the US$ for Q7 only. The driver dropped us at the hotel Posada de la Jungla, where for Q100 I got a nice room and the promise to be wakened up at 3:15am. Denise asked me if I wanted to have dinner with them, so I went to the phone that was very close planning to return latter for Internet and we went to Capitan Tortuga, a good restaurant on the shore of the lake, where we ordered two shrimp ceviche and a pasta and chatted about all sorts of things, including Garrison Keiler, till about 9:30pm. Denise and her husband have 6 kids and she works as software developer/project manager for a large corporation, and Danielle, is the fourth and when she finished school came in Xela to learn Spanish before she may begin to study medicine. It was already too late for Internet, considering that I would wake up at 3:00am so I gave up and went to bed.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

Antigua

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Antigua

Today were no specific plans. One idea was to go to Guatemala City with a private car for a day. The cost is $30 but depending who you ask can go up to $100. I left in the morning the hotel I stayed because the previous night Senora Estella said that I can stay in her house. Because I did not like the hotel and also the fact that I wanted to be easier to be spotted by the Copan bus that picks you up from your place I took my stuff and moved 4 blocks away. First I did a tour to some of the agencies and to the phones. I took the breakfast with the family and a couple from Holland and Senora Estella advised me to go to Santa Catherina, where today being the first weekend after Ash Wednesday , an event that was completely unknown in Todos Santos, it is Valediction and tomorrow it is a Procession.

I took a tuk-tuk for Q20 to Santa Catherina, where, in the church on the floor, I saw a design made out of all sorts of colors, very nice similar with a sand mandala, but with Christian theme and not so detailed. I spent little time there planning to return and go to Guatemala City, so I took the chicken bus and got quickly in Antigua and when I was coming to the hotel I saw Mercadio des Artesanias and this was the end of the day. I planned to do some shopping in Santa Elena market, near Flores, at the end of the trip in Guatemala, but now because I lost a day, there were few chances to do it. So I spent the entire day, visiting markets and stores that I found out to be absolutely beautiful, some of them exquisite, Also, I did not have time to look in any of them when I came first, but now I enjoyed a lot looking for the beautiful textiles and artifacts that they were selling. I was reasonable till now because I did not buy almost any things not to carry them. Besides, when you do this shopping tour you enter beautiful hotels made in old houses with courtyards with fountains in the middle and catalpa and many other flowers all around. It is absolutely charming this town and the best way is to move from one cafe from another and keep sipping all days smoothies. But it was not the case, because I wanted also to see some things I missed last time, one of them being Casa Popanea, that I found to be close till further notice, and another the ruined monastery of Las Capuchinas. All this took me the entire day. Less eventful and slightly more relaxing but still not too much because I kept going to take pictures in many places that I last time I missed. And there are so many other interesting places Antigua…

In the end I went to the house where I stayed to drop the stuff I bought and returned to town and went to see Las Capuchinas and eat in Las Fuentes, a charming garden restaurant inside a patio surrounded by beautiful art studios and shops. I got a nice quesadilla with a Conga smoothie and when I left for home, thinking of buying a belt from Aguacatan, I stopped in a store in Casa de Cultura, right near the cathedral and I bought for a fraction of the price both the Aquacatan belt, a very rare and relatively expensive textile in Antigua and a poncho from Huelhua, or something like that. Guatemala is famous for its textiles that so as diverse as the number of the Maya communities that exist. Some are too garish for our taste but some are extremely exquisite and I found a store in Antigua called Nativo that has absolutely exquisite textiles. They are collection textiles and the price can often be Q10000 but for exquisite work, In the market things are from kitsch to OK but nothing as good. So the fact that I found this in a sort of market stall was surprising. So with all this flurry of shopping activities the plan to go to Guate for the day was scrapped completely. I went home to pack the shopping of the day and now my backpack is full. The next step is the extra plastic bag. I took my official ticket for Copan for 4 00am tomorrow and I left now to try and have dinner in Santo Domingo, a 5 star hotel done in an old ruined monastery, that it was recommended by the doctors that I met first time when I was in Antigua.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

North of Quetzaltenango

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St Francisco el Alto

I left at 7 00 am to St Francisco el Alto with a local bus from the terminal. One hour for Q7 brings you to this village located up on the hill, from where probably got its name. The Friday market is considered the largest and the most authentic in the entire Guatemala. It is definitely the largest and you can tell it right away because you are absolutely crammed like never before. Rows of stalls are on each side and in the middle of the streets and the traffic jam is continuously. Obviously shooting with a tripod looks a little ridiculous in these conditions but I was able to squeeze some stable shots, using the tables of the stalls, or bags of corn and so on. The bus drops you kind of in the middle of the square from where you have to climb streets to go to the church and further on, on top of the hill where is the animal market. This market is extremely large. They sell everything, like in Vietnam and such, but unfortunately, no matter that there were women dressed in beautiful costumes, in the market there were mainly men dressed in jeans and with baseball caps, with T shirts that spelled “I am proud to be an American”. On top of a store that was selling embroideries and posters there were hanging the three major hopes of the Guatemalans: one poster with Jesus, one poster with Mary and one poster with the American Flag. Here when you say that you come from the US you are perceived as an angel coming from Paradise, way different than in France. The market was in full swing and I was able to shoot lots of footage with the animals and close up to some interesting women. I left from there to go to the church and there were more streets full of stalls and when I arrived at the church, there were mainly the textiles that in this market were not great. I went to the church and bought one textile mainly because the woman kept coming after me and kept discounting it. I wanted to stay more in the vegetable market and I walked the entire range of stalls but it was so crowded that I gave up after about 2.5 hours of hassle. This was the last market and to sum up the experience I can tell that the best markets are the vegetable ones that are happening in streets with no stalls, or better like in Zunil, in an open space. For shooting these are real eye candy. The rest are OK but you have to work a lot and you do not get the same sense of color. From SF El Alto I was supposed to visit 3 more places.

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San Andres de Xecul

Totonicapan is at 30 minutes by chicken bus and from there to return to SF and go to other two places. I had to skip Toto because it was obviously, even for my senses late, and I went directly to San Andres de Xecul that has a yellow church painted with multicolor angles, a unique church like this all the others having white facades. I took a bus that brought me to Moreria in 15 minutes, right near Quatro Caminos and from there I took another bus for 10 minutes, 3km, to San Andres. The church looked very interesting but I did not have the feeling that the painter smoked too much as it says in Lonely Planet. It is for sure very different that the other and interesting both inside and outside and worth a detour. The buses from there leave every 15 minutes to Xela and I took one that brought me in 45 minutes to terminal Minerva and from there with a minibus to Parque Central. On the way, right before Xela, the bus was stopped by police who asked all the local men to get off the bus and show some ids. They got back in the bus without any incident. Obviously I did not make a reservation for getting back to Antigua because I did not know what hour I will be back. With all this transport and the roads being continuously revamped is hard to predict. So I went to the agency who told me that the bus they had for 2 pm is delayed and will come at 4 pm and in any case I have to connect with another bus in Los Encountros that is coming from San Cristobal , Mexico. Muy complicado! He advised me to go myself to Transporte Alamo, 15 minute of walking and get a bus there, primera classe at 2:30pm. It sounded better and I went to my hotel, I got my backpack, passed quickly by the post office and walked the 15 minutes and arrived at the terminal for Alamo at 2:25pm, but I was able to get in the bus. I chatted the first part of the road with a couple from Norway and at 6:20pm we arrived in Chimaltenango, where me the Norway guys got off to get a chicken bus for Antigua because the bus was going to Guatemala City. The chicken buses for Antigua were so full that the second who came did not even stop a rare event in the bus business. The idea is to put as many people can fit regardless if the live or die of asphyxiation. They are many are come very often and we fit in the third bus and in 40 minutes we got to Antigua.

Friday Night Antigua was in full swing, so I dropped my bag in the first hotel I saw, Posada de Dona Angelina, OK but not great by any standards and I left directly to the center to find travel agency to but my Copan ticket. But as I said Antigua was in full swing and businesses were closed. I was desperate, so I entered a food store in front of Iglesia de la Merced, to ask if they know any agency opened, and it happened that one the women from the store to work in an agency. She started to cal everybody and eventually found out that there were no seats. We tried to find a private car to bring me to Copan and the next day to Rio Dulce for $125 and amazingly nobody wanted to go, no matter that she tried many. A round trip to Copan on private car costs $100 leaving at 5:00am. After one hour, hungry and thirsty, I gave up and I made a reservation for the next day with a minibus, no matter that she charged way more that the regular service. I went to a restaurant near the Iglesia de la Merced, called Hector Castro, opened 4 months ago and kept by this guy who speaks fluently English and Spanish. It is absolutely great and I highly recommend it. After that I went to the Internet but I was so tired that I gave up and went for a good sleep.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

South of Quetzaltenango

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Quetzaltenango

I took the bus of 5 30 am from Todos Santos to Huehue. When I got in the bus I bumped again into Eva who also woke up early and took the same bus to Huehue to go early in the morning to La Messila at the Mexican border. We arrived in Huehue in two hours and said goodbye and bon voyage- me only for another week and she for another two months. The Xela bus connected quickly, in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I took several pictures of chicken buses that were abundant in Huehue terminal that is an important hub, trying to avoid a drunkard who was excited about my video camera. In about two hours I was in Quetzaltenango, Xela as is named by everybody, and I took a minibus from terminal Minerva to Parque Central.

Here I started to look for hotels and it was not as easy as expected in Guatemala’s second city, but in the end I found a room, only for a day in a very nice colonial hotel, with a charming interior courtyard. They had to clean the room so I dropped my bag and I left to talk in tourist agencies to see how are things, in terms of local movement and movement away from here. It turned out, as expected, that is no direct bus to Copan, Honduras and you have to sleep in Antigua and go from there. I knew that and if you book it from here is way more expensive. Also, I got information about what can be seen around here, a thing that also I knew but I got an exact location of the places to visit, and this was very helpful to decide what to do. So I went to have my desayuno at 11 30 am, and I studied the situation and it became very clear that I have to do the trips on my own because the organized trip they were not fitting my schedule, among other having time for lunch, I can not stand that, and having too many things to see in one day. In general I need more time for some places that is more to shoot, so I decided to go to the terminal and leave to the south of Xela with chicken buses. Luckily I forgot the tripod in the hotel, because I picked up the wrong minibus.

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Almolonga

The guys from the hotel directed me to the right place to take the bus, very close to the hotel, that dropped me in 15 minutes in Almolonga, a village famous for its vegetables that today was supposed to have a market. The market was not as big as expected but the people in the market were very interesting and I stayed there shooting for an hour. Meanwhile, a guy who saw me with the camera shooting, told me that he just came from Zunil, the village that I was supposed to go next, and that is a great vegetable market there.

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Zunil

So I finished my shooting, I went to the church and I went to the bus and took a bus that was just leaving for Zunil and arrived there in 10 minutes. The guy was right. The market was in full swing and it was charming. The entire outside square was full with women dressed in traditional clothes, selling extraordinarily beautiful vegetables. I never knew that it exists, so nice and big organic vegetables! It was the best market I saw in this trip, just a veggie market, with nothing else and no tourists. I tried to get to some balconies, but all were private houses and nobody let me do it. Even without this point of view I shot tons of stuff from everywhere. I took a break going to the interior market and there was again a great show of veggie and people, everything colorful and nice. I left after an hour and I went to see the church, whose white ornate facade is very interesting. It has also a gilded altar and lots of icons that look very old.

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Zunil

From the church I started in the search of Maximon, San Simon, that has here a place, being a protector of the locals. I found it and I spent there about one hour and assisted at two ceremonies that I was able to shoot almost completely. This is an old Maya tradition that in time became part of the CatholicMaya religion that is the local religion in Guatemala’s highlands. As I understood less and less people come to Maximon, who looks and is dressed like Michael Jackson! The ceremony is pagan, if this term means just non-Catholic, and it involves a lot of incensing, candles and lots of smoke that makes the video spectacular. I left Maximon just because it was 4 00pm and I still had to go to another place. I went in the square and I negotiated with a taxi to bring me to Fuentes Georgina. He charged me Q80- round trip, a higher price than normal but I was by myself so it was not too much of a choice. He had to make his money.

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Fuentes Georgina

Fuetes Georgina are some thermal springs, somewhere on top of Zunil about 9 km on the road. It is a very nice place and the two pools are a pleasure to be in. I did not have my bathing suit but I got in shortening my pants and the relaxing feeling you get is unequal. The water is hot, hotter that before, since a mudslide covered the fountains, renovated now, but opened another hot spring. Also, you can do a nice hike up the mountain in the jungle that is also nice and makes the entire trip worthwhile. The fountains were full of foreigners, Xela being also a major place for learning Spanish. I returned after one hour with the taxi guy who waited for me there, and I talked with him about a lot of things, practicing my Spanish that works excelente! The language spoken in Zunil is Quiche and is very different from the other languages from the area, Tzujil, Mam, from TS and Kachichel. He dropped me in the front of the church and I went to Cooperative Santa Ana, a woman cooperative for handicrafts where I found the beautiful bands the women from Zunil were wearing in the market and I bought some of the them. It was supposed to be a bus at 6 30pm from Zunil to Xela, the last one, but it did not show up and I was advised to go to the main road and wait, 10 minutes away. I did it and a bus just came, probably the 6 30 pm that was late, that brought me in 20 minutes in Xela and after a minibus ride I got to Parque Central where is my hotel. I went to eat and I picked a great place, that I highly recommend, The balcony of Enrique, a terrace that is overlooking the entire main square of the town, that is also Parque Central. Mexican pollo con cerveza and planning my trip for the next days because this efficient transportation from Todos Santos to Xela and the visits I did today saved me two days of the original plan. As a result, tomorrow I will go to the north of Xela, mainly to San Francisco Alto, where is a famous market and several other towns that have some interesting sites, hoping to be back in Xela at 2:00pm and take a bus to Antigua around 4 00pm. The rest, email, phone, blog and that’s it. It started to rain and it rained all night.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

Todos Santos de Cuchumatan

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Todos Santos de Cuchumatan

Waking up in Todos Santos when the sun shines and the clouds are clearing is like being in paradise. It is such a fresh beauty that mesmerizes you. In the morning I woke around 7:00 hearing the roosters and the cows but also the trucks with their powerful horns.The first thing was to go to the terrace on top oh the Hotel Mam, the name of the language spoke by the locals, to take pictures and quickly I went to the market to take advantage of the fantastic light.I shot lots of video in the plaza in front of the church and in the market. The plaza was full of military people, army and police and when I asked what´s about they said that nothing especially, they come and they go. And they vanished at one time. I understood that in Guatemala are 20000 national police and 30000 public police, so is customary to see around many important buildings, especially banks, a lot of armed men in a kind of uniform. This is reaaaal Guatemala, a country village where everybody is dressed in traditional clothes, men wearing some red pants with white stripes, with a typical shirt and a hat with blue band. Actually this is a important here because the men are those wearing mainly the traditional clothes. It is not too much work here and everybody sits and hangs out, so they are perfect target to be filmed. I went and I had my breakfast in a panaderia in front of the church watching the square. I started to chat with one local guy who told me that he was in the States, a trend that continued the entire day. Apparently everybody was in the States and will go again, with or without a visa, and surprisingly one of the most important subject for them are the American elections. All of them told me their stories, where they work and what and how they got there. One told me also the price, very expensive for a person in Guatemala: Q12000 to cross the Mexican border and $3000 for the American one. The last one I met during the day had a video camera and was shooting the village for a friend of his in Oakland. He said that he worked 2 years, and came back and are three families there together. He said he will go back in two years. He said that he spoke English, but we spoke Spanish still. Many of them speak a very basic English, because their interface in the States is only with Ladinos.When I came to the hotel I bumped into Eva who stayed also at Mam and we talked to meet in the market in 15 minutes. I went to the hotel to change some things, I asked again about phone and now at the internet was a smarter guy who said that he has phone and it was actually right behind (last night the girl said that you cannot call international…) and shot a little more in the market and went to the church. I talked with another gentleman about Maya tradition and looked a little at the mesa and when I got out I met Eva who was eating her breakfast at the same panaderia. I met before the Canadians in the market and they decided to go Sendero Madero, but it implies to take a bus for one hour, so I decided after we asked around to go to the tower on top of the hill from where is a beautiful view over the town.

The walk is charming , among houses and fields that are worked by people. Like in the country you say Hi to everybody and you stop and chat with them or take a picture. People here don´t have a real problem to be filmed and some of them even ask for it. Still is good to ask first. Going up, at one point a girl of about 17-18 stopped and addressed us in perfect English with an impeccable American Southern accent. I was so puzzled, especially by the accent and I asked her if she lived in the South. She said that she lived in the North, but when I asked here where she said that in Northern Alabama. He was great and very friendly and we chat a lot about her after we start again going up. We arrived on top of the hill, after a very strenuous 2 hours walk, but the clouds started to come in and the visibility decreased, but still was great. It became right away a little chilly and we started to go down and go to the village.On the way back we met again the girl from Alabama working a loom in a house balcony and I chat a lot with her. What was funny were her questions that were typical Southern, asking several times the same thing with that slow and wavy accent: did you enjoy, was hard, etc. Her parents came out meanwhile, and when I asked her if she will go back she said that she does not have papers and it´s over.The lover relationship with USA is very strong here. After that I found out from another villagers, I spoke with a lot, that she lived there for 10 years and did the entire school and his father was deported, so everybody waits for a change in the emigration law. Eva went to the hotel and I went to eat in the market, my regular meal of watermelon, and pineapple and after that a hotdog. Eva popped in the market and decided to go and buy some crafts from a store in Casa Familiar and I went to see Santiaga. Santiaga was working a loom surrounded by the entire family. We chat about an hour, about her house that will be different having private bath, something that no hotel in Todos Santos has, about the difficulties of construction, the work they just did, about Olivia, Daniela, the kids and of course the American election, Bush and the emigration law. We chat for about one hour and meanwhile it started to rain and it stopped. She send all the best and I left her after I took some pictures of her and her daughter and walked a little more in the village arriving at the cemetery, where among others tombs made all of cement, one was painted in the American flag and said USA on it. The person who was entombed was 23 and I don´t know if he was in Iraq or he wanted to cross the border in the desert. I left just after the blog to a conference in one of the Spanish schools, about the Guatemalans and USA. It was very interesting, a guy who studied in France presented. Meanwhile, talking during the day with so many locals, I got a pretty good idea and what he said just added details to the story. There are currently 10000 people from Todos Santos in the USA and 30000 in the city. Most are illegal and can be deported. There are now 30 coyotes only in Todos Santos in comparison with 2 in 2000. The major problem is the lack of education, that like in any underdeveloped country is a privilege of the rich because you have to pay, in the peasants case more they make a month. The minimum salary is $90/month. Obviously when is any need of the Maya there are no money, however Guatemala built one of the most luxurious airports in the word , La Aurora, on which I landed. A lot of the people who go to the States prefer to stay there and not come back because off the intense corruption that exists in the country. After the talk that was till 7 00pm aI went to have dinner in a restaurant that I found on the main street. It is a restaurant for TS standards. I could not have a beer in TS in the restaurants for a reason that I did not understand, the occupation of the large part of the people being drinking. This was mentioned in the conference also, and is caused mainly by the lack of education. They go and worked their life in the US, come back, build a house and drink the rest. y 8 00pm I went back to the Spanish school to watch a movie and it was something about their radio station , the horse race for Dias de los Muertos and the elections. A very good documentary that touched again the same subjects as the conference. I saw there Olivia’a movies that are now mentioned in the Lonely Planet under Todos Santos. In school were also, a guy from England and one from the Czech Republic and a girl who sounded American by the accent. After the film was over I went to my room to read again the guide book and I decided to leave early to Xela the next morning.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala

 

Solola to Todos Santos

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Solola

The last two evenings in Pana I kept trying to get info about how to reach Todos Santos, and mainly how long it Hill take and with what connections. It was impossible to get straight answers no matter that I tried in various agencies. The info that I got proved to be wrong an it was not a question of ill intention, but just the fact that they did not know. The only reliable info is still the info from Lonely Planet. So, not getting anywhere I gave up the idea to arrive in Todos Santos today and I resigned to the thought that I have to sleep in Huehue, with the idea to wake up at 5:30 am and catch the first bus.

So in the morning I left at 7:00 to Solola, where it was today, Tuesday, one of the most authentic markets in the country. I left my luggage in Pana because it was no place to store it in Solola. I arrived in 20 minutes with the chicken bus and I started to walk the market. Indeed it is worth it. It is a fascinating local market, where the locals come and sells their wares and vegetables. It is a symphony of colors, everybody, men and women being dressed in colored huiplas in various designs. An advantage of this market is that is not a touristy affair, there are no handicrafts and in the morning there were only 4 Italians who were taking pictures. You could take picture till you run out of battery so many things are to shoot and photo. I sat down and watch the hassle and bustle of this amazing market, going from the veggie area to the wares, and clothing but coming back to the down-on-the-street vegetable area where the pictures were the best because there were no stalls. After I shot as usual too much I decided to leave earlier and take a chance to get to HueHue or even to Todos Santos.

So I left the market at 9:30am and I took the first chicken bus to Pana, where I took my bag and went back to Calle Principal to get in a bus. They told me that is no direct bus to Los Encuntros so I took again a bus to Solola and when I got off this bus the driver attendant from the Los Encuentros took directly the bag and I left in no time to Contro as is called. Another 30 minutes and at 11:00 I reached the crossing. There it was supposed to exist, based on the info I got, direct buses to Huehuetenango. Wrong again! You have to take a bus to Quatro Caminos, 1 hour and 45 minutes away, now with the works caused by the road modernization. The bus, a Pullman, came in 5 minutes and I got in and got off in Quatro Caminos, and again the driver attendant from the bus in front that was going to Huehue, fetch my bag from the bus and put it in his bus and it left in 30 seconds. With such amazing efficiency and coordination, we left QC at 12:45 and arrived in Huehue at 2:30 , right for the Todos Santos bus, primera classe, meaning not chicken bus but a minibus, that was leaving at 2:45. The last bus to Todos Santos is at 3:45. The road to Todos Santos is paved most of the way. Only the last 45 minutes are of dirt road. All the way from Huehue till here the scenery is stupendously beautiful. These small minibuses are climbing the amazing steep mountains and you are continuously surrounded by peaks and look down in valleys that have villages. It is one of the most charming roads I saw and for sure is the best in Guatemala.

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Todos Santos de Cuchumatan

I arrived here at 5:00pm after 7 bus rides. I just want to mention that the chicken buses are actually Ford trucks that have built in the back an enclosure with very basic benches. They are painted in garish colors and they are absolutely charming ….and hard to travel in them. But most often they are regular American School buses, still yellow and some of them having still the name of the school painted on the side. It even say on some of them School Bus on top. The difference is that the seats are way better when used in the USA…. I went to see Santiaga at Casa Familiar, a hotel that is in reconstruction, and took a room in Hotel Mam for Q30/night. The village is charming and I barely wait to explore it tomorrow, when by pure luck it happen to be the market day. When I returned from the Internet I bumped into an animated conversation in the kitchen of the hotel in Spanish. They were three foreigners, one couple from Canada, but the girl may not have spoken English, she was looking Portorican and a girl from Amsterdam. We chat all four of us a lot about markets, Guatemala and what can be done in Todos Santos. They knew about a hike that they wanted to do and it looks good but you have to take a bus also. Finally, I had to eat something because I was on fruit the entire day, but they ate already so I went wit the girl from Amsterdam, Eva to the nearby hotel Todos Santos. The restaurant, if it can be called this was was obviously empty but they cooked for us. We chat for an hour, in English this time. After she finished high school she started to travel and went in Australia and New Zealand for 9 months. As a result she was speaking English perfectly, and very fast. She came back from Australia with a very strong that she worked to drop, and she did. She speaks Spanish fluently also. She studied Journalism for 4 years and now she travels for 6 months before she goes back to school. Now she is 4 months in her travel and tomorrow she will leave to cross the Mexico border and go in the night to San Cristobal de las Casas. I told her many of my travel stories and about my experience in San Cristobal in 1991. Great town! At 9:00pm we left and going in the market you see that everything is closed and the entire town went to bed. Good night at 9:00pm!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2008 in Blog, Guatemala