Tuesday, 13 March 2012


So, been a while. Straight into it then!
Once we gladly said goodbye to Belize City, it was a much delayed and uncomfortable journey to the lovely island of Flores, in the middle of a small lake by the (less pretty) city of Santa Elena. The bus that we rushed to catch was several hours late, and as we weren’t able to get a reservation for the highly desirable hostel, it was with great anxiety that we got late into the town. Fortunately all was well and a bed was to be had.
The hostel, Los Amigos, had a lot of promise, but it proved to be somewhat less accommodating than the brochure promised – despite advertising that they had 2 or 3 people to do massages (“just ask”) they never had anyone available for the 2 days we stayed; they were very proud of their “extensive collection of documentaries and movies” which one could get copies of but the only person that knew about them was never around; their onsite kitchen had a good range of interesting food, but be prepared to wait 15 mins to get the attention of a staff member and order, then another 45 mins for your food or drink to turn up; and frankly most of the time, the staff seemed to simply have no clue about what was going on. Nonetheless, the island itself was remarkably pretty – only a few hundred metres from side to side, quaint cobbled streets and small companion islands all around (one of which claimed to host a museum, via a giant sign on the front of a rickety thatched roof hut – we were dubious). Most importantly, though, was its proximity to the park of Tikal.

Tikal was amazing. We left the hostel at about 5am to get into the park a little after 6.30am with the sun having just come up. Unlike many of the ruins which we had been to in the past A) Juliet was awake and healthy, and B) the jungle had completely reclaimed the land, despite being deforested for upwards of 30 miles in every direction at the height of the city’s glory. While the archeologists are slowly uncovering the monuments and restoring them to their former glory, they are leaving the surrounding forest intact, which means that as well as the spectacular pyramids and formal buildings, there is an abundance of wildlife all around as well.
Our tour guide was really good and showed us the ceiba tree, which was central to spirituality of the local Maya – The roots tied into the underworld, the branches to the heavens, and the trunk to this life. Looking at this specimen, it’s easy to see why:

The main centre of the city is home to 2 huge pyramids, one a tomb for the king “Mr. Cocoa Bean” (as our guide translated it) and a second, slightly smaller one for his wife (isn’t it always the way?) facing each other, with a grand ritual area in the middle:

It might not look like much, but this figure is over 6 feet tall. 
From there we worked our way through the extensive grounds (the total area of Tikal has been mapped to in excess of 16 square kms) to the truly epic Temple 4. From the top of this, the largest temple in Tikal, we could see for miles, across the half dozen restored temples and the endless jungle. Though we had missed the sunrise, the view was still breathtaking:
While we were walking we met ocellated turkeys, the purtiest turkeys you ever did see. We also saw a tribe of monkeys high up in a tree, a 1.5m long snake, a tarantula, and lots of bird and butterflies (the park boasts of having over 500 species of butterflies).

Henceforth, so that these posts actually get up, we're going to go with a slightly different approach - lots of pictures, little text. Hopefully this will help us get through our backlog!

After Tikal, we took a very, very long ride in the back of a van to Lanquin (of the 2 roads that lead there, one was washed out and the other covered in rubble. We had to go the looooong way round), where we were supposed to go on a tour of some cascades, but decided we'd had enough of early mornings and seen enough patches of water that we instead decided to float down a river in inner tubes instead :) A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

The next day it was on to Antigua, from where we were scheduled to head out to climb the active-volcano Pacaya. This had exploded every 4 years or so, but the last time was in 2010 so no active lava (very disappointing). However, it was still very clearly an active volcano:
Those aren't clouds... (well, not all of them)

When we got to the top, we visited the Lava Store, sat in some sauna holes, and most exciting of all - Lava-Roasted Marshmallows!!! While I thought these were fantastic, the little dog which we dubbed chicken dog (all the dogs that came with us got temporary names) thought marshmallow time was the greatest thing in the world!


I committed a slight faux pas when ordering Juliet's lunch... Fortunately, the kitchen staff also thought I was nuts (no pun intended) and did not deliver everything requested!

Back in Antigua, while I went to get a massage for my aching back, Juliet managed to stumble upon the end of Carnival and came back robot coloured.


We had to wait an extra day for some important mail to arrive (the company sending it was stupidly slow, but once it made it to FedEx, they got it from Texas to Guatemala in less than 24hrs. Wow!) so we took a day trip into Guatemala City where we went to a pretty cool anthropology museum and pretended we were statues:

Finally, we encountered an altar to the demon Llama gods of Guatemala (I assume that's what this was) and I claimed this as my closest encounters with Llamas, as per the title of the blog. Victory!

Anyway, the mail turned up, and we moved on to El Salvador. And then Nicaragua. And then Costa Rica... yeah, we're behind. We're about to go into the jungle for 3 days (staying in 'luxury tents' complete with beds) so probably won't post those countries until after then, but we'll get them prepared.... as long as there's power...

Until then, we're alive, not starving to death and haven't been mugged. All in all, good things. 

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