March, April 2003

Hello everyone,
Guatemala summary:

We left Mexico behind at the thoroughly uninspiring town of Tapachula and are now enjoying Guatemala. From Guatemala City we had to catch a bus to Antigua where we wanted to take Spanish lessons. We had to take a taxi from one bus station to the other, and we were fairly sure that we got to the right place... but not quite certain. We had been warned that busses usually get quite full, so we were pleasantly surprised when we left with a bus that was only 75% full. But then as the bus went around the city, a guy hung out the window and called, "Antigua, Antigua!" every few seconds. He occasionally used his shorter variation of "Antigua!" And several times he went with the more expansive, "Antigua, Antigua, Antigua!" At least we were sure of where we were going now, but we hadn't quite anticipated adding more riders at every corner. By the time we got out of the city, we were at a solid 150% of capacity with people on opposite sides of the aisle sitting shoulder to shoulder across the center.

Since then things have been entirely relaxing. We're staying with a family that provides a private room and three great meals per day. Spanish classes are going well, though my instructor tells me that I occasionally have a french accent. In the afternoons and on the weekends we've gone on some short trips.

Our host family--Aracely and Doña Anna Lots of kids working is one of the first things we noticed Marimba concert in the park the first night we arrived Some classmates in traditional indigenous wedding outfits Traditional hand weaving Angela tries making tortillas Birthday party with our host family First beer in Guatemala... and I made it count! Angela with professor Rosa Matt with professor Edgar View of Antigua from La Cerra de la Crux Wide angle (two pictures added together) Local soccer team (check out the cheap seats on the bus and in the trees!) Mayan woman selling traditional goods in the central park

Climbing an active volcano, looking into the crater, and boot-skating back down through the gravel was the highlight so far. I wasn't sure Angela would make it. Two steps up followed by sliding one and a half steps down didn't make for a fun ascent, but in the end it was worth it. The unique feeling of being on top of an active volcano with fuming sulphur smoke and rocks too hot to touch was an entirely new experience for me.

We were sure that this was too steep to climb A few friendly warnings Halfway up Angela on the mouth of the volcano Matt on the rim of the volcano

Every weekend during lent there are parades and elaborate "alfombras" all over the city. They take hours and hours to make (the bigger ones can take a few days sometimes) and then are destroyed by the parade in a couple of minutes. It's descended in some sort of twisted path from palm sunday celebrations. It's like a strange series of palm-sunday-on-steroids celebrations.

The first big alfombra that we saw Lots of folks work on each one Even the kids get involved Small part of a very detailed one About a third of the whole floor mural It takes only 2 minutes to destroy the hours and hours of work Big bright alfombra with bird theme Geometric patterns All made from flower petals Two big alfombras Working on a smaller one Big butterfly alfombra Jueves Santo Close up of previous picture Father daughter alfombra

The next weekend we went to Panajachel on the edge of Lago Atitlán--an amazing lake surrounded by mountains and... yep, you guessed it, more volcanoes! The views across the lake are stunning. We paddled around for a bit in a canoe and did a couple of boat trips to some of the towns that border the lake.

View from town Angela in the kayak Matt in the kayak

We took a luxury overnight bus from Antigua to Tikal. It was great: dinner, drinks, stewardess, and an entirely unmemorable American film (in English) with lots of explosions. Once there, we found that there were no cheap hotels. We were stuck with a high class place with a pool, restaurant, and gift shop--$30 per night. Quite the budget buster.

But the ruins were well worth the price. We got a guide, and he showed us all around the grounds and gave background on the structures as well as the jungle plants and animals. He lured a tarantula out of her hole and pointed out the different types of monkeys that were swinging overhead.

The Mayan ruins themselves are massive. They're hundreds of feet tall and spread all over the place. There's evidence of people living there from 800 BC, but most of the things are only 1000 to 1500 years old. There are lots of estimates for the size of the city, but there seems some agreement that it may have had at least 100,000 people at its height.

Furry little rodent on the Return of the Jedi temple View from the big temple 1 View from the big temple 2 View from the big temple 3 View from the big temple 4 Leaf cutter ants clearing a trail and working hard

After our brief trip into Belize and Honduras, we went back to Guatemala. We had heard that the celebrations in Antigua shouldn't be missed, so we just couldn't be so close and not go. They were impressive as predicted. We saw more alfombras like we'd seen before, but even larger and more impressive. And the processions (sort of parades) were huge. Eighty men would carry one enormous float depicting the crucifiction. Others would ride around on horses acting like Roman centurions--complete with one designated as Pontius Pilot. There was enough incense burning to make you cough--and remember: we were outdoors.

What you don't see in the pictures here is the alfombras. As the procession goes along they tromp over one beautiful alfombra after another.

Jueves Santo Procession (before crucifixion) Good Friday Procession (after crucifixion)

From there we went north to the Carribean coast of Guatemala. It's funny how the culture changes so dramatically as you get near that coast. Instead of Spanish-speaking and indiginous clothing it feels like a Carribean island with English spoken. We hiked around Livingston and saw the Rio Dulce river. One highlight here was the different food. Tapado was a sort of soup with cabbage, onions, fish, plantains, coconut milk, and lots of other things. (That's for you, Dave ;-)

Matt's first pineapple tree View during our hike Swimming in one of the seven (dry) waterfalls

Last modified: 16 September 2003