Its still hot and humid!
We took a week-long 3 country tour with a small group of other cruisers we’ve gotten to know here. Long van rides to Honduras, Guatemala and through eastern El Salvador to see the Mayan ruins. The Mayans ran Central America as a corporate oligarchy long before the Spaniards even dreamed of the place. Chris put the tour together with Jorge Martinez, of TourIn, El Salvador (http://www.tourinelsalvador.com/new2/). Jorge is a great guy. He really knows his country and is enthusiastic about sharing it. Works hard to get it put together for a good price, too. He is one of the movers and shakers on the El Salvador side who have worked to make the El Salvador Rally a good deal for cruisers. Good price too.
The Mayan’s had a sophisticated calendar that had a portion that repeats every 52 years. A convenient period considering their life expectancy. Ignoring what the experts say, calendar experts and New Agers figure that the calendar runs out on Dec. 21, 2012. According to Jorge, the same space ships that were used to evacuate the Mayan temples when they were mysteriously abandoned will return and pickup the rest of us at the end of 2012. So, pack your bags!
We stopped in San Salvador at a fancy mall to hit the ATMs on our way out. This is the sign on the close in parking stalls.
First stop was to see the Spanish colonial town of Santa Ana, El Salvador. Not a Mayan temple, but built by the same labor (and probably on the site of a previous temple, as was the practice then).
Jorge explaining church construction and the virgin birth.
You feel a little invasive visiting these churches, as they are clearly in very active daily use.
On our way to the Honduran Mayan site Copan, we took a short cut through the corner of Guatemala. Here’s the important signage above the men’s urinal in the Guatemalan immigration building.
We stayed at a way cool fancy hotel in Copan – hot running water and all. Copan is a kicked back tourist town focused on visitors to the Copan ruins.
Copan is a massive, highly decorated, set of temples and buildings. It was occupied for many centuries and then unexplainably abandoned. It’s a bit like looking at Detroit in 500 years and wondering ‘But why?’ The Temples in Copan are not as big and extensive as in Tikal, but they are more ornate and have a lot less tourism. We picked up our local guide, Saul, and headed out in the morning for a walk around. Saul is Honduran. Jorge explained to numerous times that unlike the industrious Salvadorians, Hondurans were born tired. Saul was an old rock ‘n roll guitarist now with a good paying job. He had just the right amount of detail history, anecdotes and dumb jokes.
Water god of some type. Note the red paint still showing on his eye. One theory is that the mercury from these paints got into the sophisticated water supply system of the town and turned them all into Mad Hatters.
The dancing Jaguar. There’s a pair of these each facing opposite directions. Looks like they’re doing the cha-cha to me.
Excavated temple on the left, pile of rocks on the right. They have lots of carefully labeled artifacts and blocks that are stacked around from the excavations. Some of the earlier excavations were not done with modern methods and modern, low-cost grad students. This left a lot of material that is carefully identified as GOK, or God Only Knows.
Macaws guard the entrance and exit to Copan.
After Copan we left Honduras, re-crossed the border back into Guatemala for the long haul up to Antigua. Antigua was the Spanish Colonial center of Central America. After they conquered the Mayans, they ran the whole place out Antigua. Lots of well preserved colonial buildings, along with backpacker hostels and high-end restaurants.
Unfortunately Antigua is surrounded by active volcanoes and very susceptible to earthquakes. These have partially destroyed the older buildings and rose to enough of an irritation to the Spaniards that they moved the capital to Guatemala City. Above is a collapsed column of the central church. It was rebuilt about a 1/3 of its original size and is still in use.
The remnants of a colonial era frieze on the non-rebuilt side of the church.
Looking up de road in Antigua- this arch is in all the archetypical Antigua photos. That’s Sergio, our city guide with Jorge. Note the women in the traditional Mayan dress coming down the road, they come into town from the western highlands of Guatemala to hawk their wares-- mostly weavings, all beautiful.
Dinner at the good restaurant in Antigua.
Vicky showing the locals how to dance in the restaurant. Guatemala is still very Mayan. Chris and I feel like giants there, as the people are classically short. These dancers wear masks that represent Europeans with colonial-era dress. The Mayans, despite hundreds of years of colonization, continue to practice much of their ancient traditions including multi-deity worship, fitting it neatly into the corner of their Catholic churches.
We had 10 cruisers on the trip. About half way through they started to drop like flies. First Vicky got sick. She had been fighting something for awhile. After her dance night she was starting to look a bit for the worse. The hotel staff organized a doctor to make a house call at the hotel. He spoke 3 or 4 languages, was Canadian-trained and had great bedside manner. Price for a house-call, US$75– less than a lot of co-pays. He thought she had strep and needed some killer antibiotics. So he called the pharmacy and they brought over meds in 20 minutes at 7pm. Cost US$30.
Vicky and Larry stayed in the hotel that night. Tom and Cary (off Dragon’s Toy) and Torbin and Judy (off Tivoli) headed off to eat with us. We settled on the La Fonda de something. It was doing a good business and had photos of the stars who had eaten there –including Bill Clinton. Torbin was the first to fall, waking up queasy later that night. 4am the next morning we had to all get up and take the van into the airport in Guatemala City for our flight to Tikal. It’s a 1 hour plane flight or a 12 hour overnight bus ride. My backs just not up to 12 hours of a Guatemalan bus. Chris didn’t look too good in the morning, but then who does at 4am? By the time we got hiking on the jungle trail to get into Tikal, she was going down fast. (I’ll spare you the details and I’ve decided to withhold the pictures in the same vain as Obama holding back the pics of Osama.) We got Chris back to the Jungle Lodge hotel room and she went down for the count. Torbin followed soon after, another wounded soldier.
It’s the jungle, they do have a few bugs. Chris felt right at home when she saw a scorpion. There’s no TV screen in the room, but plenty of entertainment watching the ants move bugs 50 times their size along the window screens.
A croc in the lake by the Tikal entrance.
Wild turkey on the trail to Tikal.
And out of the jungle comes the temples. It must have been amazing when the early Spaniards cruised by and saw jungle covered mounds that just didn’t seem all natural.
The main plaza
These stairs really are this steep. If they were a few more degrees vertical, you’d have to call them a ladder. In the Latin lands of personal responsibility, loosing a tourist or two is not too big a deal.
The view from the top of Temple 4 looking over the Tikal jungle.
Coatimundi, called a Pisote here,scooting across the road looking for some lunch desert. These are kind of raccoon like critters who don’t seem real fearful of or particularly interested in humans.
A mom spider monkey transporting her baby over the lodges in the hotel. At night you hear the bellowing of the howler monkeys, supposedly the loudest mammal on earth.
On our way back, we stopped at Flores, a small town on an island in the middle of Lago Peten. Just a note to remind you not to throw your garbage into the lake. Flores looks like a cute tourist town with lots of cool bars cheap beds that got a little overhyped by the Lonely Planet guidebooks.
Once we got back into ES, we stopped in the mountain town of Sayulita along the ‘Ruta de Flores’ (Route of Flowers). One more church and a market whose stalls specialize in serving delicious hot cooked meals.
Getting our locally grown cashews weighed at the market. US$5/kilo, or 2.2lbs.
We also stopped at Joya de Ceren in El Salvador on our way back. They call this the Pompei of the Mayan ruins because it was completely covered with volcanic ash. Unlike Pompei, everyone here got to higher ground before the place got inundated (but probably died anyway due to the searing volcanic ash they’d inhaled). What’s interesting about this site is that it is not a site of high-end temples and housing for the aristocrats. This was a working-class Mayan town, the structures that have been excavated are adobe houses. The one above is the shaman's house (in this case they believe it was a shawoman).
All in all, we had a great tour for a good price. And dedicated interesting guides, except in Tikal where we all suspect that the guide took us into the park on a back trail to avoid the entrance guards and was able to pocket our entrance fees. Despite this little snafu, we’d highly recommend using Jorge (TourIn) if you need any Central American travel planning.
Paul & Chris