GUATEMALA LAND ADVENTURES-LAKE ATITLAN, FLORES & TIKAL
30 January 2014
Back in Antigua from our Pacaya trip and fully recovered after a good night¬'s sleep we headed off to Lake Atitlan where we spent one night at Panajachel before heading across to Santiago on the far side of the lake. The Hotel Posado de Don Rodrigo was very nice and we had a fantastic view of the volcano from our room. That night we took pictures of the sunset and early the next morning, Jim took some great sunrise pictures while I slept in. We visited a nature reserve near Panajachel. There were monkeys, suspended bridges, birds and a butterfly house with a variety of beautiful butterflies.
We took a launcha from Panajachel over to the Hotel Santiago. The ride took about 20 minutes. Arriving at our hotel, the first thing that impressed us were the beautiful gardens surrounding the restaurant and the stone cottages. The cottages were very beautiful. Made of stone and featuring little fireplaces and lots of candles and very romantic. The restaurant reminded me of an English castle. Big tables and chairs and great food too.
While at Santiago, we went on a bird watching expedition. We were driven in a small pickup truck. Jeannie and I sat up front with the driver and Jim C. And Jim M. stood in the back of the truck with the guide. We passed men walking with huge bundles of firewood on their back and along the roadside were large gunny sacks full of coffee beans.
Our bird watching guide was knowledgeable and pointed out some interesting birds as we walked. On the way back to Santiago, our driver suddenly stopped on the road and turned off the engine. We were uncertain about what was going to happen next, until we noticed that the truck was rolling backwards, up the hill. A strong magnetic force was pulling the vehicle. Very cool!
Following three days in Santiago, we took the launcha back to Panajachel where we connected with our ride to the Guatemala City Airport. From there we would catch the 6:30 PM flight to Flores. At Flores, we stayed at the Hotel Casona de la Isla for three nights. Jeannie was not feeling very well and had to spend a lot of time resting. Jim and I explored the small island of Flores and walked over the bridge to Santa Elena. There was a small mall there and we found a hair salon. I wanted to get a trim and Jim decided he might as well get his hair done too.
My hairdresser seemed a bit rough looking to me. She reminded me of prison guards in a woman¬'s prison. I was a little scared until she started washing my hair. She spent a lot of time massaging my scalp, which was wonderful and later she did a decent job of cutting my hair. Jim¬'s hairstylist was a real piece of work. Out he came, dressed in excruciatingly tight leopard skin pants and wearing 6 inch stilettos. Jim nearly fainted when he saw the large ¬"package¬" in front but went off, meek like a lamb, to be sheared. Unfortunately, sheared would be a good haircut when compared to the mess Jim ended up with. I had a very difficult time holding back my laughter until we had left the shop. What an interesting experience!
Flores is a very small island and has been impacted by the rainy season. The water table has risen and roads and buildings are flooded on parts of Flores. Jim and I walked all around the island and found a restaurant on the flooded side. It was open, and the owner invited us to try lunch. We took a chance and ate a great meal while watching people try pass in front of the flooded restaurant. The walkers had to balance their way carefully on narrow pieces of wood. The bicyclists were adept at coasting and half-peddling the hundred feet of flooded road and the motorcyclists and cars just went for it.
We took a boat tour of Lago de Petan Itza so that we could visit the Petencito Zoo and climb a lookout where we would have a great view of Flores. Feeling a bit hungry and thirsty after our two hikes we set off for San Jose for lunch. Our three hour tour took five hours and we recommend it to anyone going to Flores.
After Flores, our next and last spot on our tour was the Tikal National Park. The ruins were spectacular. Jungle surrounds everything and some of the ruins are still buried underneath. Howler monkeys and spider monkeys were above us, along with many species of birds. We have visited many Mayan ruins but Tikal was very impressive. It covers a huge area of land and the jungle is so lush, wet and green. Climbing up the towers was hard work but worth the effort.
Our home for four nights, the Tikal Inn, was very basic. Electricity was available for a couple of hours in the morning and then again at 6 PM to 10 PM. Internet was available in the evenings and sometimes during the day in the lobby. Food was good at the restaurant. The results of a very wet rainy season showed in the muddy, flooded grounds in some parts of the park. There was a tourism centre near our hotel and it was the home of the best coffee I have ever had. The small booth featured Italian coffee and had a hand press machine called a Pavoni.
Jim and I were able to do the Tikal Sunrise Tour on our second to last morning in Tikal. Previously, we had set our alarm to 3:30 AM and awoken to rain, but this time we were happy to see a full moon and the stars! Out of bed we jumped, gathered our cameras, slathered the bug spray on thick and headed to the lobby. There, in the gloom, the night watchman pointed out the coffee and cookies using his flashlight. This was an unexpected but welcome surprise. A few more hotel guests straggled in, making our group number ten, including the guide.
We walked to the ruins, moonlight making everything bright and magical. Our guide basically did the same tour as what our guide had done during the daylight. However, the darkness and the moon shining, created a totally different experience. Just before sunrise, we climbed 212 feet up to the top of the highest building, Temple IV. There we sat, in the dark, overlooking the jungle below us and the tops of ruins in the distance. Other groups joined us and we all awaited, quietly, the rising of the sun.
As the dawn came, the lighting changed and early morning mist shrouded the jungle. The vistas grew more and more beautiful as each minute passed. As the sun finally rose up, the jungle glowed pink and then red. Birds began to awaken, parrots called and squawked. And then began the howler monkeys. First one called its loud and deep throated bark, Whoooof Whooof and then another and before long there were dozens of them. The sound was incredible and filled the jungle.What an amazing planet we live on and how fortunate to be able to experience this very magic moment. It made me cry, it was so beautiful and special.
On our last night at Tikal, Jim got very sick with what Jeannie had and was up most of the night. In the morning both Jeannie and Jim were well enough to travel, as long as we brought some plastic puke bags and our bus had a toilet. The trip back to Rio Dulce took less time than expected and it was wonderful to get back aboard our Emerald Seas. We had thought to take our friends on a trip down the Rio Dulce but decided that it would be best to stay at Tortugal Marina where Jeannie could visit a doctor and recuperate for a few days before they had to fly back to California. My Jim needed some TLC as well.
While in the Rio with our friends, we were able to enjoy some sightseeing at the Castillo de San Felipe and see more birds. Jim and Jeannie Cosgrove and myself went out for Trivia night. Our table won and the winnings paid for all our drinks and dinners!
On January 28th, we bid our friends goodbye. They were off to civilization and it was time for us to get ready for our trip to Belize.