Guatemala: Welcome to Guate!
So that comment about things working so efficiently and effectively in the US was a bit premature. I arrived at SFO anxious to get back at it and get on the plane but American had different plans for me. My first flight was canceled and the next best option to get me to Guatemala was a flight 14 hours later (boo), with a re-route through Miami (boo), but all on 1st class (yeah!!). So, I had an extra day to wander around San Fran, pay a surprise last visit to Beth and Drew and go out for some amazing Vietnamese at what is now my new favorite “when visiting Beth” restaurant. My flights were fine, and I could learn to live with 1st class travel, if I had to. I arrived at Guatemala City airport. We had to wait a bit before they opened up our gate for us and the pilot announced that this was the first day they were using this particular terminal in the newly revamped airport…I quickly found out that by “new”, they meant completely unfinished. There were wires exposed, no seats for the waiting people, no bathrooms, and when we got to the immigration area, no people to stamp us through. There was absolutely nothing or no one stopping us from just waltzing past the unattended desks and into Guatemala illegally. It was kind of crazy. After seriously 20 minutes, someone official looking walked by and just happened to notice all 300 of us from the flight standing there and asked if we´d like them to call someone from immigration over to help us. Well, now, if it´s no bother. Anyway, chaos – I love it! – and I´m back!!!
Guatemala City does not have good reviews, and I took an hour long bus ride through the city from the airport to the bus area and I must agree. It was nothing impressive. I was quickly planning my escape. Guate is another annoying city, like Lima, where there is no central bus terminal unless you are going to the hot spots. Instead, each bus company has it´s own office where it´s own buses leave from, so when you screw up and go to the wrong one, like I inevitably do, you have to hoof it 10 blocks or so to the next to try and find your bus. Ugh. After all the rigmarole of the past 2 days, I just couldn`t´t find the energy to hop straight onto a chicken bus, so I paid the $2 upgrade and just took a direct bus to Puerto Barrios, on the Caribbean coast. I arrived at nightfall in this dusty little port town that exists solely for banana and pineapple exportation. As has become the norm on this trip, I got ripped off by the first taxi I took as he took me to a crappy and cheap hole in the wall near the port. But, I was so delirious with desire to be horizontal and asleep on a bed that I didn´t care.
In the morning I took a ferry to Livingston, a small town that is only accessed by water. It is full of friendly and happy people and music can be heard blaring from every home, restaurant and bar. It is very different from the rest of Guatemala as it is heavily influenced by the Garifunas. The Garifunas have an interesting story in that they are descendants from a Nigerian slave ship that shipwrecked somewhere in the Caribbean and they trickled their way to the coast of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras and have maintained many of their customs and traditions and language. In the morning, all the Garifuna women walked around with big baskets on their head supplying all of the restaurants with fresh cheese, milk and veggies. The highlight of my stay in Livingston was eating Tapado!! I had actually had this one time before, with Suzy in Honduras a few years ago, and loved it then too, but had forgotten what it was called. So, I was delighted to see a bowl of the same insanely yummy soup placed before me when dinner came!! I loved it so much I put up a picture for you all to enjoy!
I took a boat trip fro Livingston and up the Rio Dulce through a beautiful jungle valley. We stopped at some places a long the way to drop off and pickup locals and I really enjoyed the 3 hour ride. The city of Rio Dulce is a great lake town full of restaurants and boats and islands. Sailors come in from the ocean for a few days of R&R. I only stayed an afternoon, but really should have spent the night.
From there it was a bus ride to Flores, and my first chicken bus experience in quite a while. Oh lordy. It was standing room only for the first 2 hours, hotter than hell, and I had a kid standing on my toes the whole time. I was constantly worried about my bag the whole time as it was on the floor as well and there are lots of sticky fingered children in these parts. Sure enough, we caught one of them trying to slip his fingers into a fellow traveler´s backpack. After two hours I saw the ladies in the seats next to me gathering their belongings and my temporary friend Lucy and I devised a plan. I would box out the people behind us and she would let the ladies out and slip in and then I would jump in. It worked!!! Thank goodness I was a guard in basketball for about a month in the 6th grade!!! Once I was seated it was like riding in luxury. We arrived at Flores, a little island town with the primary purpose of housing the slew of tourists that come to visit the Tikal ruins nearby. I must admit, it was nice to spend the evening hanging out with “my kind” again. No longer is the first question “where you from?” followed by “what do you do for a living?”….instead, it´s: name? where is your stuff currently stored? what did you used to do? and where are you going next? These people get me.
Then it was off to the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. I had been to Copan in Honduras, and it was similar, but this was on a much grander scale. There were Mayan “skyscrapers” that stuck out above the jungle canopy and at one point the city had 100,000 inhabitants, so it was really big. It´s been incredibly interesting on this trip to see various Indian ruins, and you can´t help but try and visualize what life must have been like here. I´m sure my vision is far from reality but it really does remind me of how insignificant we all are in the grander scheme of time. Tikal was like a playground for kids and adults alike. Everyone was scurrying up and down the pyramids and hiking around the grounds that cover nearly 3 sq kms. It was big enough that even with the influx of visitors there were still moments when I found myself on a trail, deep in the jungle, all alone. It was worth the trek up here into NE Guate….all in a day´s work!