Mexico City and Home

As I write this I am on my final flight home from Mexico City to Washington,DC. It has been a great trip but I’m happy to be headed home.
Yesterday was basically a travel day. I caught a 10am bus from Puerto Barrios which got into Guatemala City about 3:30. I walked for an hour or so around the neighborhood of the hotel to get some exercise. The sunset from my hotel balcony was beautiful, but it was early to bed since I had to be up at 3:30am this morning to catch the 4am shuttle to the airport. The flight to Mexico City was on time and customs in Mexico was very quick so I decided to go downtown again rather than spend 6 hours at the airport.
Today I went to the Museo National de Antropolgia, (National Museum of Anthropology.) It was fantastic. The exhibits were superbly displayed with good English explanations. This is a world class museum with significant displays on the Aztecs, Mayans, Oltecs and other indigenous civilizations. Even my quick run through was amazing. I only wish I had more time.
Oh, and one minor rant on the day. I went to the ATM and took out 500 pesos, which might sound like a lot of money, but is actually only about $40. I went to store my bag in a locker. The price was 130 pesos or about $10. They couldn’t change my 500 peso note. I tried to by water or a snack in three different places before I was able to find someone willing to change that large of a note.

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Rio Dulce

Today was another wet rainy day. The locals think it is very cold because the temperature is only in the 60′s. … I awoke early this morning and took a 7:30 boat from Puerto Barrios to Livingston. No surprise- the 30 minute ride was still cold and wet, but breakfast at Gaby’s was worth it. It basically amounted to an “everything” omelette served with bread, plantains, frijoles (refried beans), coffee and juice – all for about $3.
Despite the rain, I decided to take another 2 hour boat trip up the river through the canyon to the town of Rio Dulce, (named for the river.) The canyon was amazing with hundreds of tropical birds. Unfortunately about the time we excited the canyon on to the lake the skies opened up and the rain absolutely poured for the last hour of the trip. We had a tarp we tried to huddle beneath but it was useless. Eventually I started laughing out loud at the sheer absurdity of it all and soon many on the boat joined me. It was actually fun despite it all.
Lunch was another lingering affair at an expat restaurant – this time the Sandy Dog. I sat next to a young American couple and we chatted amiably for almost two hours while enjoying an amazing view of the harbor, a burger and several beers.
Afterwards I made my way out to Castillo de San Felipe an ancient Spanish fort overlooking the lake and the river.

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Livingston

“Una cerveza mas,” I told the waiter. It was raining and I saw no reason to hurry so why not have one more beer. Besides I was thoroughly enjoying my day in Livingston despite the weather, the music was upbeat yet relaxing and the food was excellent so why not linger over lunch. I can see why Hemingway liked these out of the way places. I thought to myself that maybe this is how Key West or Havana felt 80 years ago – both relaxed and vibrant at the same time.
… when I got up this morning I had hoped to take part in an excursion from the hotel, but it seems that I am about the only guest and nothing was on. Not to be deterred I grabbed a taxi into town and took a boat over to the little town of Livingston. It is an end of the world place only accessible by boat. The ride was wet and a little cold but well worth it as I immediately took to Livingston. I walked up the main street and found a great little place called Rio Tropicales for breakfast where I had a fantastic crepe, coffee con leche, and an orange juice and watched the comings and goings on main street. Afterward I walked through town, exploring the shops and then went down and walked along the shore for about an hour through the houses of the local Garafinu community.
Returning to town I stumbled upon Rasta Mesa, a very unique enterprise trying to promote the local Garafinu culture. I chatted with the owner for awhile and he told me one of the things they did was give drum lessons. Next thing you know he is spending over an hour with me teaching me some of the local rhythms, not an easy task for this rhythm challenged white boy. I tried my best and Eduardo was patient. We laughed a lot and I had a great time.
… and so I found myself having lunch at “Happy Fish” enjoying the food, the music and a couple of beers with the rhythm of the drumming still in my head. – Life doesn’t get much better than this!
I returned to Puerto Barrios early enough to explore the market and have a coffee at Kaffa, an upscale coffee house, before returning to the hotel for a shower and dinner.

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Bus to Puerto Barrios

I have decided to spend my last few days on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. As I write this I have just begun the 5 hour journey. The bus is very nice. Much nicer than most buses in the states. $18 bought me a one way ticket in first class. The seats are every bit as nice as a first class airline seat. The seating configuration is two seats on one side of the aisle and a single on the other – which is a lot of room on a bus. I have a single on the right side of the aisle.
This morning Scott and I slept in until 7:30am and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. We walked around Zone 10, which is the most upscale of Guatemala City’s neighborhoods. It has feels very American with many familiar businesses including Mercedes, Hard Rock Cafe, TGIF, Holiday Inn, Radisson, and the ever present fast food chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, DQ, Pizza Hut and Starbucks to name a few. About noon we stopped for one last quick beer together and then it was of to the airport for Scott and the bus terminal for me.

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Tikal

On Sunday Scott and I visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal in northern Guatemala. The day started with the alarm at 4:30 am, a quick shower and we were downstairs in time to catch a 5am shuttle to the airport. Amazingly there was no security check. They simply weighed our carry ons and checked our tickets. The 6:30 flight to Flores was completely full with 33 passengers.
We caught a bus from Flores to Tikal, stopping briefly to take on some more passengers. After about 90 minutes we arrived in Tikal. From the parking lot it was about a 25 minute walk through the jungle to the main site. The main plaza was filed by two pyramids and several other buildings. We were able to climb to the top of Temple II which gave us great views of the main plaza and Temple I. Afterward we were able to climb and explore several of the nearby buildings.
The buildings surrounding the main plaza is only one of numerous complexes at Tikal. So far archaeologists have identified over 4000 buildings with only a small fraction having been excavated.
We visited a couple of other complexes and were able to climb Temple IV, the tallest structure in Tikal. From the top we had a view of three other temples sticking out of the jungle canopy like ships on a green ocean.
We had a great lunch at Tikal and saw their small but interesting museum before heading back to the bus and the airport, finally arriving back in Guatemala City about 8:30pm.

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Tikal

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Lake Atitlan

Today we went to lake Atilan, in the shadow of three volcanos. We took a boat to Santiago where we had lunch and then another boat to San Pedro. The lake is incredibly beautiful. In some ways it reminds me of Lake Tahoe with the blue water and the surrounding mountains. Santiago didn’t excite us, and neither did San Pedro at first. We came in on a local boat and wandered the wrong side of town for an hour before suddenly stumbling on the San Pedro everyone raves about as we were looking for the boat to leave. The good post of town is full of great little restaurants, tiki bars and little shops. Unfortunately we didn’t even have time for a beer before having to jump on a boat back to Panajachel.

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Watching an erupting volcano

Yesterday we climbed the volcano Pacaya and watched from its slopes as it spewed hot lava into the air!

My brother, Scott, arrived in Guatemala late Thursday night. We took a cab to our hotel in Antigua about 30 miles away and arrived just after midnight. The bar had just closed but they were nice enough to re-open it so we could share a drink together. We spent Friday morning wandering around Antigua. We saw the tomb of Saint Pedro and visited the cathedral.
In the afternoon we joined a small group for an excursion to Pacaya Volcano. Pacaya is still active so we could only climb part way up. After a couple of hours we had a good view of the summit and watched as hot lava periodically erupted into the air. We were treated to an incredible sunset that included a view of three other nearby volcanos. As it started to get dark we could really see the Orange glow of the lava. The decent was a little hairy in the dark but we made it down safely. A great dinner followed by a little salsa music capped a great day.

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Antigua

As I write this I find myself in a great little bar overlooking the main square in Antigua. A bottle of the national beer, Gallo, runs about $2. I have been taking everyone’s advice not to drink the water and so find myself frequenting these local establishments every time I am thirsty which in this hot climate turns out to be quite frequent.
Antigua is the ancient capital of Guatemala. For over 200 years, from 1543 to 1773, it was the most important city in Central America. A devastating earthquake in 1773 resulted in moving the Capital to Guatemala City a year later. The city was supposed to be evacuated and abandoned, but it managed to survive and is now a World Heritage site.

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Guatemala is closed

Guatemala is closed today. At least that’s how it felt – especially this morning. I am used to just winning my travels, but hadn’t really thought through the fact that today is a national holiday. Nothing is open. Not even McDonalds or the convenience stores. I walked around the area by hotel this morning for a couple of hours and it felt like a neutron bomb had gone off. The buildings were there but nothing was open and there was hardly a person on the street.
About noon I made may to the old historic center of the city. While nearly everything around it is closed, the plaza is full of people and street vendors. The Cathedral was standing room only for the noon mass. After noon a few places opened. I found a little tacqueria and am enjoying my second cervaza (beer) as I write this. $10 for two tacos and two beers in an upscale place – including tip.

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