A few pictures from my trip to Guatemala
December 4, 2002
We started out this adventure from Portland and flew to Houston TX.
We were supposed to leave at 1220pm, however, due to the bad weather in Texas, the incoming flight, which would be our outgoing flight, was delayed and we didn't actually leave Portland until 125pm. Now, the connecting flight to Guatemala at Houston was set to leave at 650pm their time and we only had a window of about 40 minutes to change flights.
We landed in Houston at 650pm, their time.... and taxied for another 10 minutes before we could get off the plane. No sense in running for the next flight since it had left about the same moment we touched ground. So, went and made some new flight arrangements for the next day and found a hotel for the night.
(If you've heard about or read any of my other trips, you know that this is normally the way my trips go! *S*)
We stayed at the Sleep Inn in Houston and walked over to Derrick's Saloon where we had a nice dinner then retired to our rooms.
December 5, 2002
Continental breakfast was waiting in the morning and we caught the bus to the airport. Of course, they pulled me out of line at the x-ray machine and mumbled something about a lighter in my bag. I'm still not sure what their problem was.
At any rate, made it through the x-ray and walked the next 16 miles to the gate. Ok, it wasn't really 16 miles, it just seemed like it! Finally it was time to
get on the plane and as I approached the gate agent, surley though she was, she insisted on taking one of my carry-on bags and checking it in. *rolling eyes* Of course, she clearly was just being crabby with me, because numerous other people with larger bags were allowed to carry theirs on.
My friend, on the other hand, was pulled out to the bag check area and had his bag searched. (tee hee) His bag was larger than mine and he was allowed, by the same gate agent, to carry his bag on.
No matter, we were flying first class from Houston to Guatemala City so who cared what they did at the airport!
First Class flying is soooooooo much nicer than flying in coach. I wish I could always fly First Class.... real food, free everything whenever you want it, large comfy seats, being waited on hand and foot! I loved it!
Made it to Guatemala City at 1230pm and after getting through Immigration, met up with a fella from the US State Dept (did I mention this was a work trip?). He took us to the Holiday Inn in the city and got us checked in. From there we went to the Embassy and got a bit of a tour there and did a money exchange. The Guatemalan money is a Quetzal (pronounced: Ketsal). The exchange rate changes daily, but overall, 1 Quetzal (their dollar) is about 12 1/2 cents in American.
We were introduced to our guide/ translator/ driver who is a real nice guy. And we all got along very well... lots of laughs would be had over the next few days. It was great to have him with us since he knew all of the area and spoke the language. It always helps to have a native roaming around with you!
By 430pm we were back to the Holiday Inn. The hotel had huge rooms, even the smoking rooms were huge. I had a large balcony on my room, king size bed, marble-look bath, it was really nice.
The view, although hazy, was very pretty.
We met at 5pm downstairs and wandered around a bit looking for the Mall and a place to eat.
Stopped at this little mall we found and looked around in one of the shops.
We decided to eat at LaEnsenada (well, it was named something like that anyhow!) and I had the Carpaccio y pasta and 2 Gallo (pronounced guyo), which is a locally made beer. I wasn't sure what I had ordered, but when it arrived, I was sure I hadn't ordered what I got! But, it was pretty tasty. It cost 68.75Q which was about $9 plus tip.
December 6, 2002
I rented a car and we took off for Lake Atitlan. From Guatemala City, it is about 75 miles to Lake Atitlan but the drive takes about 3 1/2 hours because of the terrain. Guatemala is very mountainous due to all the volcanoes. One of the Volcanoes is active.
We took highway CA9 and headed towards Lake Amatitlan (a smaller lake) and had a very scenic drive. It was really quite pretty once you get out of the City.
We traveled down CA9 until we reached the town of Escuintla and there we connected with CA2. The Volcanoes along the route are just beautiful and so majestic looking!
Volcan de Agua & Pacaya
At some point on CA2, we stopped for some refreshments at one of the many roadside stands.
This nice lady was running the fruitstand we stopped at. She looked all of 15 but was probably in her early 30's. We each had a coconut with a straw to drink the milk from it and tried 3 or 4 other fruits while we were there. It was hot that day and that coconut milk tasted real good! Let me tell you, there is ALOT of milk in a coconut!
We followed CA2 until it connected with RN11 near Patulul. We headed west on RN11 towards Lake Atitlan. When we reached San Lucas, we were greeted by armed police(?) who demanded a toll of 2Q before we could go through the town. Of course, there is only one way you can go to get to where we were going, so we paid the toll and drove through town to the town park where we got out to stretch our legs.
San Lucas Church
San Lucas Park
We saddled up again and took off around the Lake to get to Santiago, our destination. Along the route you would see women doing the laundry in the rivers or lakes, children packing huge bundles of wood and/or food on their backs to take home, animals walking in and out of the houses at their own free will, and the homes have no electricity in the country. The children rarely go to school because they can't afford it and are put to work in the Sugar Cane fields or the Corn Fields at a very young age. I felt so bad for the kids and the old people we saw packing those heavy loads up and down those hills!
I'm not certain which town we stopped at next to see how much the ferry to Santiago was, but I think it was Panajachel. It had a restaurant and I thought it looked cleaner than the park at San Lucas, so I insisted we stop there *wink* (remember all that coconut juice?).
Volcan de Atitlan
We decided to just keep driving as we didn't want to leave the car for a couple of days parked unattended. We drove through numerous small villages that are scattered around Lake Atitlan, finally arriving at the largest town in the area, Santiago.
We stayed at the largest hotel in Santiago, also the most expensive (262.00Q per night, $65.00). It is about a mile out of the town of Santiago. It was a very sturdy building of solid rock with numerous bungalows which were built the same way.
We secured our rooms and took off to the town to look around and do some shopping at the outdoor markets. I spent about 650.00Q at the markets and was feeling like I had really overspent my budget... until I realized that I had only spent about $85.00! Got some real nice things, a quilt, scarves, pot holders, a bag, a placemat, a painting and some odds and ends of beaded jewelry. You really have to watch out for the kids selling jewelry... they are relentless in trying to sell! Clearly learned from their parents who have the larger items in the market. Haggling over prices is the way of life there and is expected, in fact, if you don't try to get a better price, they think you are an idiot! On the other hand, if you go to low it is insulting to them.
The food at the hotel we stayed at was the best we had the whole time we were in Guatemala. And so reasonably priced too. The lobby/dining room is open from 730am to 10pm. After 10pm, there is nothing to do. The bungalows have no TV, no radio, no clocks... no nothing! So, if you're alone, plan on doing some reading! There is electricity to the bungalows, just nothing to plug into the outlets!
Inside my Bungalow
Oh, sleeping is something you could do alot of too!
Most of this area is inhabited by various Mayan tribes. Each town around the lake, you would notice that the clothing was different depending on which tribe lived there. It was very interesting. Mostly, you would see people just sitting on the curbs (well, such as they were), watching traffic and other people. The women still carry things on their heads.
Women in Santiago
As in most of the villages we traveled through, many of the cobblestone roads are straight up and down and barely accommodate more than one vehicle on it at a time. The people don't necessarily move quickly to get out of the way of vehicles either!
December 7, 2002
I didn't sleep a wink the night at the rock hotel. The wind had really kicked up that night and every time something hit my "house", I woke up. I was very happy when morning arrived! I did get claustrophobic in the little "house" because it is small and all rock inside... sorta like sleeping in a cave! But,
like I said before, it was the cleanest and largest place there!
We checked out of that hotel and headed back towards Guatemala City. We left there about 930am or so and there were already tons of women doing the laundry.
Volcan de Atitlan
Washing at the Lake
We dined at the El Pescadore in Santiago and left for the city about 1115am. We circled the bottom half of the lake this time on road 14, hooked into San Lucas again, and drove up to Godinez to connect with RN1 at San Antonio Palobro. The valley area was spectacular on this route.
One of the valleys
We ventured over and through the mountains to get back to Ciudad de Guatemala (Guatemala City). We made a brief stop at our guide's home so he could visit his sick baby girl. We wandered about while he did that. At the store where we bought some water and a snack, I saw these little girls in the "garage" mixing the dough for whatever they were making. Everyone works!
We headed north out of the city on CA9 and traveled as far as Zacapa where we stopped at the Hotel Longarone for dinner. It was going to get dark soon and we still had quite a ways to go with no guarantee that we would find any dinner at our ultimate destination.
We arrived at Rio Dulce, on the Rio Dulce river, at about 830pm and checked into the Mansion del Rio.
Yours Truly again!
It was also a nice hotel, gated entrance, and clean. The only bad thing is that we were all hungry again and by the time we checked in and settled in... the restaurant/bar had closed at 9pm. It had also started raining. We did finally find dinner at the Palms hotel down the street.
December 8, 2002
We met at 845am and had complimentary breakfast at the hotel. We rented a boat and driver to take us wherever we needed to go for 500.00Q ($66.00). He would just wait for us when we wanted to get off the boat and go to the next destination when we were ready.
Driver and my companions
Getting to Livingston, we took time for a more scenic trip on the Rio Dulce River. It is a huge river and made for a great trip.
First, we checked out some of the marina's in the area and then went on to the Castle at Rio Dulce.
We had intended on coming back and going through the Castle when we concluded the business side of our trip, but it didn't work out that way!
After putting gas in the boat, we took off to Livingston.
I always sat in the bow of the boat, much more scenic from that vantage point!
Rio Dulce River
Not far from Rio Dulce (the town), was Bird Island. It was fascinating with all the different birds and other creatures covering it!
Look hard for the turtles!
Further down river we came across a young boy who was on his way out to catch fish for the family meal. His canoe was clearly hand carved and it also had a hole in the back end of it, which fortunately was above the water line!
We left the young boy to catch his fish and continued down the river, viewing the various homes, the natural hot springs in the river, and just the scenery in general.
Rio Dulce River
House on the river
Natural Hot Spring
Finally got to Livingston and got off the boat. Livingston is mainly comprised of the Garifuna. I guess they would be the "black guatemalans".
Wandered around the main street, which was having a town fair while we were there.
Walked down to the beach (which was only about 6' wide of sand and fairly dirty with garbage etc)
To the beach
At the beach
Dined at the Villa Caribe, one of the more notably nice hotels. If we were going to overnight in Livingston, this would have been the only hotel I saw worth staying at. We all ordered the Tapado. Since it was going to take 20 minutes to get the lunch finished cooking, they brought us a complimentary cup of crab soup.... complete with a half of crab! The Tapado was a very large bowl of soup with various kinds of seafood in it, a large whole fish on the side and beans and rice that are cooked in coconut milk. It was really a good and filling meal, but I never got used to having my fish arrive with its head, tail and fins intact! :)
Camera shy Pelican
After we ate we wandered back to the main street and bought some gifts. Then, went back to our boat and headed back up the Rio Dulce River to the town of Rio Dulce. The sun was starting to set and we wasted no time in getting back up river, we hadn't completed the work we needed to do on the river and had to get the boat and driver back by dark. The trip on the river, not sight-seeing, takes about 2 1/2 hours. I also got a sunburn which tanned very nicely by the next morning!
The River at dusk
Pretty isn't it?
We arrived back to the Mansion del Rio hotel at about 515pm and met for dinner at the restaurant there.
December 9, 2002
We left Rio Dulce and headed for Guatemala City about 830am. The trip takes about 5 1/2 hrs, again, that is due to the terrain and how much truck traffic you come across.
We stopped for lunch at Zacapa again, since we knew the food was good and the place was clean. It is about the halfway mark between Rio Dulce and Guatemala City.
Zacapa from the Hotel
We stopped in at the Embassy to say good bye to our hosts and a final thank you and good bye to our guide. From there we went to the Holiday Inn and checked in again. Next on the list was to find the Mall and buy an inexpensive bag to haul all our gifts in back to the US. We got that accomplished and set out to find somewhere to dine for our last dinner in Guatemala City. (The Holiday Inn set out a great complimentary buffet for breakfast, so at least we knew that would be taken care of!)
We decided on the Inca Grill which was not far from the hotel. The food was very good there, but a bit more expensive than the other places we had eaten.
My friend ordered a huge "platter meal", which actually was supposed to be a dinner for two! He ate most of it, almost all of it, and took the rest back to the hotel for a midnight snack! It would have taken me a week to eat all that food!
So, we left Guatemala with all our gifts about 1100am. Feeling like we had a great time, but had not accomplished all that we had hoped to accomplish on the work end of things. Plus it kinda sucked to travel First Class from Guatemala City to Houston and then have to go back to Coach from Houston to Portland!
Guatemala is a beautiful place, but can also be a very hazardous place if you don't know where NOT to go. There are always a bunch of Sope (pronounced SoPa) circling in the skies... they look like hawks from the ground, but they are actually a Vulture.
Almost all of the businesses in Guatemala City have armed guards at their doors, armed with machine gun type weapons. Traveling on mass transit (buses) in the city is not very safe as they get robbed with alarming regularity.
After 10pm it is not safe to be out anywhere, in the city or on the highway, chances are you will get assaulted, robbed, killed, or whatever.
The towns around the lakes and on the river were basically filthy, the highways are littered with bags of garbage, there is not emission control standards for their vehicles, they drive like crazy people and don't really care if you are in their way, and you have to be careful in the outdoor markets because you might get your pockets picked.
There is a definite poor and rich.. relatively little "middle class" type areas as far as I could tell.
Travel is scenic and the roadways are paved with two lanes. What takes so long is the winding around and up and down to get through the mountains.
You don't have to be as careful as in earlier years in worrying about whether or not something was cooked in regular water or filtered water. Beer is safe to drink if it comes in a bottle or can.
There are some nice places to stay at when you're there, but you have to know where they are. When reading about the hotels, what sounds good on paper... well, wasn't so great when we saw it!
Staying out of the jungle areas we didn't have to be too concerned with the Malaria problems, but just in case, we were both taking Anti-Malaria pills!
The people were friendly enough and service was good. But that haggling for prices of goods on the open market got real old real fast for me! I like to walk into the store, see the price, and decide if I will buy it or not!
But overall, it was a terrific adventure
Hope you enjoyed the trip!
Some links for you if you want to investigate further:
US Department of State
San Lucas History
Castle on the Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce River and area
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