Welcome to Guatemala, the Maya world with the most famous ruins in Tikal, but we did not visit them, because it is a tourist trap – it will dry your pockets out! We saw other ruins and decided to look for some new experience. On almost empty roads, from North to South, we saw people living in huts with roofs made of palm or bananas leaves. Poverty at first glance. Guatemala is in the top ten exporting coffee countries and we were admiring some big coffee plantation when, suddenly, the road finished! A river to be crossed but no bridge. Crossing was made possible by a barge that saw its preview in the 60’s! The water level was low, so the vehicles entering the barge had to go right to the front edge, forcing the rear end to rise and, by doing so, allowing the barge to leave shore. Immediately after departure, all cars had to back up, otherwise we would be stuck before reaching the exit shore! New experience. Our goal was Semuc Champey, meaning where the river hides under the stones.
El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, was the chosen base camp. There we opened our tent in the parking lot but had access to all the facilities. River bar, hammocks and even meals. While Marzena was trying to get her part of the blog up to date, Sergio was enjoying all the good things of life. Hard work, in the end, does pay off!
We went to the lakes by “colectivo”, the most popular means of transport in this parts of the world. First activity was a cave tour, flooded with water. We were given a candle to light our ways. Not an easy task when, in some points, the water level was higher than you! After the cave we climbed to a lookout point and watched the whole river gorge from the top. In the end we bathe in its cool waters.
Guatemala is a mountainous country with the highest number of volcanoes in the region, 37 in total (some are still active) and we wanted to climb one. What better place to do it than the town of Antigua? Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until 1776. Why did it ceased to be? Two earthquakes, caused by volcanic activity, destroyed it completely. We saw the effects of that in the innumerable religious ruins in the city.
Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes – Agua, Fuego and Acatenango.
The volcano of Fuego is active and clouds of smoke are visible from the town. To have a closer view you just need to climb its twin brother, the Acatenango (inactive). That’s what we did. Five long hours took us to get to the summit, but the effort was well worth it.
At a height of almost 4000 m, 3796 to be precise, the feeling was amazing. Sun set was impossible to be appreciated because of the clouds, but, later in the night, the clouds dispersed and we could see the lights from villages and towns. Just in front of us Fuego, smoked, murmured, and from time to time displayed a show of fireworks, spiting red hot stones. Sitting around the fire pit, our guide gifted us with a treat, marshmallows! Funny was to see that only the non-Europeans of the group where particularly happy with it! For instance, for one of the Danish, was the first and, I believe, the last time he ever tried barbecued marshmallows. At the top, where only the wind was whistling, the fire sizzling and no human sounds could be heard, you can feel both almighty and overpowered by nature. Magical.
The day after descending from Acatenango, the sour muscles quickly brought us back to reality. We decided to rest by Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by three more volcanoes. In Guatemala, it’s hard not to run in to them. Although the views from the top of the volcanoes would be amazing (the lake is considered one of the most beautiful in the world), we enjoyed the views from the shore.
In Guatemala, we observed that the locals often wear traditional costumes, sometimes specific to a given region and to a given tribe. One of the places where you can see folklore is at the market in Chichicastenango. The market days are every Thursday and Sunday. It is an important centre of Mayan culture, and more precisely of Kiche people. We arrived on Saturday. In the evening, the streets were packed with people, some dancing others just enjoying the music. We could see different concerts throughout the city. A stage was set right in front of the church and a band played for a parade of traditional costumes. In the next street another band was preforming, this time the stage was set on top of a truck. This is probably the main characteristic of Latin America – they always something to commemorate. The next morning stalls took over the space of the stages. No trace of the party from the night before. Just a normal market day.
Guatemala cemeteries are known for their colours and the one in Chicicastenango is one of the most colourful. Located on a hill overlooking the grey concrete city, creating a contrast that can be seen immediately. We walked along the paths in the silence of that place, away from the hustle and bustle of the marketplace.
Our visit to Guatemala was now in its final day and we set off to Honduras, hoping to reach a new continent by new year.