Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
Labels: Guatemala Inland
We arrived in Guate about 2pm, at the Litegua bus station downtown, and negotiated for a taxi to take us to our hotel near the airport. We weren't sure what the far should be, but the taxi driver started at 90Q and we got him down to 60Q, so we probably got a reasonably fair fare.
Our hotel, a small family run hotel called Patricia's was recommended to us by a friend. http://patriciashotel.com/
It turned out to be a family home, in the traditional Guatemalan style with a courtyard in the middle. The family rents out 6 rooms with shared bath, 3 in each leg of the "U". It was a very clean and fairly cheery place, and Patricia and her family were very nice. The beds were firm, the pillows NOT lumpy, the sheets good. There is free wifi. TV is shared, in the courtyard.
We'd recommend this as a budget hotel close to the airport. The cost was $12 U.S. pp, which includes one airport transfer and a continental breakfast. They also gave us a ride into town (Zone 10) for 25Q (about $3). They do NOT do dinner, but there is a small diner within walking distance featuring typical El Salvadoran food.
After we got settled in the hotel, Dave and I spent the afternoon poking around the Zona Viva (Zone 10) in Guatemala City. This is the area where most of the foreign embassies are located, and has several US-style shopping malls, plus numerous bars, restaurants, and hotels, all within a few blocks of each other. This is where most non-backpacker tourists stay in Guatemala, either coming or going. There is a nice-looking Holiday Inn and a few other upscale US hotels. But the low end of these hotels start at $75/nite, a price we'd never consider paying in Guatemala.
We strolled the malls and were amazed at the "stuff". You can truly get just about any U.S. goods here, at a price. Not outrageous, just what you'd expect to pay when adding shipping costs and government import taxes (12%). The largest store in the Rio Dulce is about the size of a typical 3BR home in the U.S., so everything is limited in selection and quantity. So we just gawked at all the stuff in these stores. And the malls they were in were typical huge malls... 3 levels with a large food court in each one.
We also walked a few blocks to check out the budget hotel that many of the cruisers use when coming to the city. Hotel Las Torres
It is located in Zone 10 and within walking distance of all the malls, restaurants and bars. We had received conflicting recommendations from our friends. One friend said it was great, and other said they wouldn't stay there again. Though we didn't get to see a room, because they were all full, it looked "entirely adequate".
The Las Torres is right across from the Holiday Inn and costs half the price. They advertise a room rate of $38.50, but tell them you're a boater on the Rio Dulce and give them a boat card to put on their wall, and you get a room rate of $25. The front desk guy says their wifi works "most of the time". I think we'll stay here on our way back through Guate just to experience it for ourselves.
Our plan was to eat while downtown and then catch a cab back to the hotel for an early night. We needed to get up at 4:30am to catch our 7am flight out to Ft. Lauderdale.
I have to confess that we ate in the mall food court, and then had an ice cream at McDonalds. The mall meal was good--at a New Orleans themed restaurant though with a Guatemalan flair.
We flagged down a taxi back to the U.S. Again he asked for almost double what it should have been and when Dave started pressing for a lower price, he whined about rush hour, etc. We settled on 30Q, but Dave gave him 35Q, because the traffic was bad and he turned out to be a nice guy.
It appeared that we were the only guests at Patricia's. We never saw another guest, and it was a nice quiet hotel, EXCEPT for the engine noises coming from the airport. The traffic dies down after dark and the only one that disturbed us was about 4am, some turbo prop revving up his engines.
The common questions when you meet another student (in a bar, in the square, on a bus to somewhere, at the mid-morning break at the school).
- Where are you from?
- How long are you here for?
- Where have you been in Guatemala?
- Where are you going next?
- How can you afford to do this?
It is fun sharing life stories and tips about how to see more of Guatemala for less. And it is inspiring to meet other adventurous people like ourselves.
They had promised us an itinerary, but we never got one (and forgot to ask until we were underway). Maybe it was a plot to make us have to talk Spanish with our driver!
The driver, Carlos, seemed to only speak Spanish (but later I found out that he speaks English pretty well). I was worried that the fact that we were supposed to be picking Dave, Ron, and Dorothy up at El Rancho hadn't been properly communicated. So I worried the whole way until we actually had them in the bus that something wouldn't work out right. But it was no problem.
We didn't pick them up in El Rancho until about 4:30pm, and we still had about 2 hours to go to get to Coban. To fit all 12 people in, with luggage, we had to put Sue on the jump seat next to the driver, and Dorothy on the back jump seat next to the luggage. They swapped places on the way back and both ended up with sore bums.
It was a dark and rainy night and we were all glad that someone else was driving us. Carlos turned out to be a very good and careful driver. Most of the roads in Guatemala are still only 2 lanes. And they have no trains and no ports to speak of, so ALL the goods in the country move via truck. AND the roads are very mountainous, so one heavily laden truck going up a hill will essentially stall traffic to a crawl. So the other drivers just pass them anywhere, any way they can... on hills, on blind curves, etc. It is not uncommon to have 3 abreast on a 2 lane road. They are all crazy. It's nervewracking to just be in the passenger seat. But Carlos refused to pass unless he could do so safely.
The sleeping arrangements for our 2 nights in the hotel had been a little fuzzy. The normal student population (the backpackers) are used to dormitory style accommodations. But I wanted to spend at least the first night alone with Dave, so I asked for a private room for us and another for Ron and Dorothy. There were 2 other couples in the group and 4 single people. Once all the keys had been given out, it turned out that my friend Sue (who is married) ended up being paired with Kim, an older gentleman from Korea. He wasn't too keen about that and neither was Sue.
There were no more rooms to be had. So they shuffled things a little bit and they ended up putting her in with 2 other students (in a 3-bed room). I think the name of the hotel was Pasado Don Antonio, but it was somewhat unremarkable. We got there late, it was pouring rain and it continued to rain until we left in the morning.
The next morning we had breakfast in a Pollo Campero, which is a McDonalds-style fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken.
They are all over Guatemala, but so far we had refused to eat in one. But our driver, Carlos, picked this place because it was easy and relatively fast. It was not bad. Dave and I both got 'Plato Super Tipico' which included refried beans and fried plantains (and eggs, bacon, etc).
Once we left Coban for Lanquin, the paved road ended and we went the rest of the way on dirt roads. However, we saw regular mile markers (in kilometers, actually). We wondered whether someone would really go 265 Km on this road!!! I think it was only about 40 Km to our final destination, but it took us 2 hrs of driving to cover that distance. It had rained the night before and the roads were muddy and slippery, and we were going up and down hills on very rutted roads.
With the van so heavily loaded, Carlos had to get a running start before going up a hill. Once, we met another car coming our way, and we had to stop to let him pass, and then Carlos had to back down the road a quarter of a mile to get our running start again. We also had to shift a few people to the back, to put some more weight on the back wheels. We eventually made it.
The first stop on Saturday morning were the caves of Lanquin (lan-keen)... Las Cuevitas de Lanquin. This was a big series of caves with lights, etc. Our guide spoke only Spanish and took us through the cave pointing out formations that look like something else. (ie one rock looked like a monkey face, El Mono).
It was kind of uninspiring after our cave trip in Belize. Everyone was excited when Dave pointed out the bats hanging from the ceiling. The cave was lit, but they had told us to bring flashlights in case the lights go out. They say there are miles of caves that have not been explored.
After the caves, we piled back in the van for another 10 Km to get to our final destination, Semuc Champey and Hotel Las Marias. It was more bumpy slithery road, though small villages and at least one coffee plantation.
Las Marias is situated on the Rio Lanquin, right near Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey is a series of waterfalls and pools, where the river goes (mostly) for awhile. The sight of the river falling into this big hole was an amazing site.
We got a chance to swim and climb around on the rocks in the pools.
Then Dave and I and Sue opted to walk back via the 'mirador' (overlook). It was a half hour climb up steep steps (both rock and wooden) to get there. But the view was worth it and we saw 3 toucans in the tree nearby. The picture at the beginning was taken from the mirador.
We met some of our friends from the La Union school who had also gone to Semuc Champey on a trip they organized themselves. They got to do the tubing trip in addition to the waterfalls trip.
At dinner the owner of the hotel and his buddies hauled out their Marimba and played some authentic Guatemalan music for us.
The trip back on Sunday was long. The only fun thing was our stop at Biotopo Quetzal, where we did an hour nature walk through the 'cloud forest'. There are supposed to be Quetzals (the Gaute national bird) there, but we didn't see any.
More pics here:
Coban, Lanquin, and Semuc Champey
My teacher and I in schoolIt's about a 10 minute walk from our casa to the school. Each student/teacher pair gets a desk, and there are about 30 desks scattered around the school. We get a break from 10:00 to 10:30am. There is an old woman selling meat pies on the street at break. Or you can go next door to the internet cafe.
During the morning, one of the people from school comes by and describes the day's afternoon activity and asks if you want to participate (all in Spanish). Yesterday, it was a free Salsa/Merengua class. Today it was a visit to Mayan family house for a demonstration on weaving, a mock wedding, and some 'plata typica' (typical Mayan food), with, of course, an opportunity to buy some Mayan handicrafts (yep, bought another one).
Tomorrow the activity is a bicycle tour of Antigua. These are generally free or inexpensive. And they are all in Spanish.
School ends at 12 noon. Lunch (back at the casa) isn't til 1pm, so we have time to either check some email or lounge a bit before lunch. Most of the afternoon activities start at 2pm, so it's back to the school for that. We are usually back at the casa by 5pm, where Estela has dinner ready.
Then we study... an hour or two, perhaps interspersed with a little bit of TV. (CNN in English, sometimes a Spanish channel).
Every weekend the school also organizes a group tour for the weekend, to some place in Guatemala. This weekend the tour is to Coban, Lanquin, and Semuc Champey. This is an area of caves and rivers, where the attractions are rain forest, caves, tubing, and waterfalls. The cost for the trip, including transportation and hotel, is $85 pp. This is an area that Dave has been dying to visit. So when I heard that was where the trip was, I called him and asked if he wants to try to meet me. He researched the logistics of getting from the Rio Dulce, and said it was do-able. He also enlisted our friends Ron and Dorothy. So the three of them are going to catch the Litegua bus to El Rancho, where the road from Antigua/Guatemala City turns left to Coban.
Note: Coban is not Copan, which is a place of ruins in Honduras.
Our humble abode.
Sue had done all the research and had picked the school already. I checked out the La Union website and agreed it looked like a good school. La Union website. The cost for 4 hours a day with a private tutor is $90 a week, and room and board in the 'student house' is another $83/week. Sue and I both signed up via a form on their website. Some schools require as much as a $75 registration fee, but La Union does not.
We left the Rio on the Litegua bus on Thursday and started school on Friday. We opted to take classes on Saturday (at least THIS Saturday), but we are taking today off. After 2 days of intense study, I have 'verbos irregularos' spilling out of my brain. I am learning, I just hope it sticks.
I would probably be learning more if I had opted to do a 'home stay' (stay with a family who won't speak any English to you). However, we both wanted the freedom of a less intimate setting. The student house has turned out to be kinda fun. It is typical of the low end hotels in Antigua, but kind of family style with communal meals. The accommodations are bare bones, but clean enough. (Sue bought a roll of paper towels today so she could clean up her bathroom a little better).
Our 'house mother', Estela, lives elsewhere, but comes in at 7am to make breakfast, and stays til 5pm. She does the cooking and the cleaning. Lunch is ready for us at 1pm, when we get out of school, and she makes dinner and leaves it for us when she leaves at 5pm. We are free to eat when we want by warming it in the microwave.
There are 6 rooms here. Most of the students are young Americans--just out of college. They seem to drink and party more than they study. One is actually working as a bartender in a local student hangout. Sue and I are the oldest. There's another older student who's an American, but who is originally from South Africa. Brian is currently living in the Dominican Republic and an aid worker with a non-governmental organization based in the DR. He desperately wants to learn Spanish, and studies
every night. We have had an interesting time talking around the dinner table. He has family in South Africa and New Zealand, some of whom are sailors. So he is curious about what we are doing and why (and how much it costs).
We plan to stay here in Antigua studying for 2 weeks, and then Sue will fly back to the States for awhile (while her husband Mike finishes the messy project), and I will go back to the Rio Dulce. If Dave and Mike can take a few days off from their 'projects' next weekend, we hope they'll meet us in Guatemala City for a day or so.
The first step was to announce on the morning net that I was putting together a trip for next week. We got an unexpected boost in interest when one of the 'old hands' on the river came on and said that Quirigua had the best stellae (carved stones) that he'd ever seen. Within an hour I had about 15 people on my list. The last few I had to tell that I wasn't sure I could fit them in. I wasn't sure if I could get more than a 12 person van.
We screwed around for a few days with Steve from Bruno's, trying to get a price for a trip to Quirigua. For whatever reason, he wasn't very interested in the business. Finally I gave up and asked our friend Russell from s/v Cookie's Cutter to call the van driver they'd used before. With Russ's help, we hired Edgar for Q600 ($80) for the day. He said it would be Q40 ($5.25) a head if we had 15 people. We asked him the max he could take and he said 17. (NOT!!)
I finally got 15 people confirmed and told them to meet at Bruno's at 8:30am on the appointed day. Everyone kept asking me questions that I couldn't answer (since I hadn't been there). I did a little research on the internet to better plan the trip. There wasn't much about Quirigua... it seems to be a short stop on the way from Copan to Tikal or Guat City for most tours. So I told everyone what I thought and that we'd be winging it.
A bunch of us at Tortugal were going, so we took the Tortugal launch over to town in the morning and had an early breakfast at Bruno's. While at breakfast, Ron got to talking with some backpackers who were looking for something to do for the day. We told them we were going to Quirgua and we could probably squeeze in 2 more. Fortunately they decided to go elsewhere, as there turned out NOT to be room for 17 in the van.
Edgar showed up on time. It was a decent van--not one of the top of the line Tourismo vans, but not bad. Pretty much what I'd expected for the price. With 15 of us, and almost no luggage, we were pretty crammed. If we did another trip in that van we would limit it to 12 or 13.
One guy brought a cooler, and it had to go on top. There wasn't enough room behind the back seat to even put backpacks. Edgar originally said we could have A/C for Q5 more per head, but I guess he was hot and turned the A/C on anyway.
Since I hadn't done the trip before, I had to guess at the plan... my guess was an hour's drive, about 2-3 hours there, lunch, and a drive back, and we'd be back by about 3pm. I ended up spot-on. I suggested everyone bring a bottle of water and a snack. Dorothy's idea of a snack turned out to be lunch for everyone (a bottle of wine, pate, cheese, crackers, etc, complete with a table cloth, wine glasses, and wooden bowls). I had NO IDEA she was lugging all that stuff around until she started unloading it.
Quirigua is a small place with big stones. There might be more unexcavated stuff in the jungle, but the part that's open to the public was pretty small. The interpretive center was all in Spanish, so a few of us who could read it, interpreted for the rest. There are no plaques around the stones, and no brochure. One part of the site was actively being excavated and was fenced off.
We managed to pick up an English speaking guide (who didn't know the place well) and his buddy, who did know the history, but spoke no english. Between the two of them, they did a pretty good job of guiding us thru the place. We all pitched in a couple of bucks a head to have them tag along with us.
It had rained hard the night before, and the grounds were kind of swampy. The mosquitos were brutal. The place was set in heavy jungle, so there wasn't a breath of air stirring. Fortunately there was a paved path with some shade over it. But most of the people who came with us didn't venture close to more than one or two of the stones. ("Seen one rock, seen them all").
We were finished looking at everything in about an hour and a half. Dorothy decided it was time for 'snacks' and sat down next to a ruin, in the shade, and started pulling stuff out of her backpack. Those of us that had perservered through the mosquitos, heat, humidity, and the climb up over the ruins, had a nice picnic lunch there.
The others had apparently had enough of old rocks and had headed back to the van--a cell phone call revealed that they were back at the van waiting for us. We promised them we'd finish off our wine and cheese and go to lunch with them.
Then it was off to Mariscos, a small town on the far side of Lake Izabel. Edgar wanted another Q10 a head to take us to Mariscos. After the drive there, I understand why--it was quite a ways off the main road (it was only 1/4" on the map!). You know how high gas is in the States? Well, it's higher here.
Anyway, it was a good fun day trip. Total cost, including lunch: $15 per person. (If you were booking the same trip through a gringo hotel, it would be $50-$75)
See all our Quirigua (and Mariscos) photos here:
The Lake Atitlan fishing boats are a funny shape
Ron and Dorothy hadn't been buying anything on the way up (but Ron was having fun negotiating anyway). After our experience in Chichi, where we discovered the price comes WAY down when you start to walk away, Ron knew that you don't buy on the first look.
One of the interesting things we saw was a man working on an old loom. We learned later that the huilepuil's that the women wear are woven in 18" wide strips by the women on a 'backstrap loom'. The other weavings, for general cloth around the house and some of the men's clothes, are woven by men on a big loom.
On the way back down, Ron and Dorothy started buying a few things. The closer to the dock they got, the lower the prices got. Once they started buying, word got around among the women on the street that someone was buying, and everyone in town headed for Ron. By the time Ron arrived back at the dock, he was surrounded by a swarm of Mayan women all thrusting their goods on him. All were amazing pieces of workmanship, taking literally months to make. Being offered, at that time, for about $10-$20.
I did end up buying one off Dorothy later, who bought her last one on the dock from a young girl, just because she felt sorry for her. Though we felt Dorothy had 'stolen' it at only $10, the girl was really happy about her end of the transaction. I saw her look of triumph as she got the money from Ron.
Our Santiago Pictures are here:
We only booked one night ahead of time, but ended up staying 2 nights once we got there, because it was such a nice place. Booking ahead was interesting, because they want you to pay ahead of time. They don't accept Paypal, and there's a 6% surcharge if you pay by credit card (this is common in Guatemala). So, while we were in Antigua, we pulled cash out of an ATM machine, and went to their bank and deposited the money directly in their bank account.
To get to the Casa del Mundo, you have to take a water taxi. We had been warned that the price should only be Q10 (about $1.50) but many times they will charge the gringos 2 or 3 times that. Dave did the negotiating and we got the Q10 price.
We had so much luggage by this time (what we originally bought, plus all the trinkets we'd picked up at Chichi) that when a Tuk Tuk drove by as we came out of the hotel, we got the brilliant idea to hire it for about $2, load it up with all our luggage, and send Dave off to the dock with the luggage. Since we'd been to the water's edge the night before, and seen boats, we thought we knew where the dock was. The PROPER dock turned out to be a lot further away than we'd thought. We were double glad we weren't lugging all our luggage that way. Dave talked us in to the proper dock by cell phone.
Even though we were prepared for a really amazing place by our friends, we were still amazed by the Casa del Mundo.
Built by an American who married a Guatemalan woman, one bungalo at a time, it's a beautiful place. Each room is hanging on the cliffside with fantastic views. Even our budget room with shared bath (about $25 US) was nice (no lumpy pillows). And it is truly a world traveller's place. At the 'family style' dinner every night, we met travelers from all over the world. We sampled
their wood-fired jacuzzi, took kayaks out on the lake, and took a lancha across the river to Santiago Atitlan. The grounds were immaculate and bursting with all kinds of tropical vegetation.
Ron and Dorothy's room (about $55/nite) seemed to be the 'honeymoon suite'. It was way up on the hillside (about 3 flights of stairs up), a huge room with huge bed, and one whole wall was windows. It was really gorgeous (but with our old knees, quite a climb to get there).
Make sure you visit the photo album to see the rest of the pictures of the lake and grounds.
On the way out of Atitlan, we got a chance to stop at a beautiful overlook. There was a Mayan woman and her 2 daughters at the overlook. The woman was weaving (and selling cloth). Ron got them to pose for pictures (and I got to take a picture of he and Dave showing them the pictures).
Our Lake Atitilan Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/LakeAtitlan
Pana, as it's called by everyone who's been in Guatemala for more than a day, is one of the most touristy towns in Guatemala. It is the gateway to beautiful Lake Atitlan, and everyone goes there.
Because the Lonely Planet wasn't real high on Pana, we only planned to stay there overnight. After of our experience in Antigua--where we got to the hotel we'd chosen out of the book, late in the afternoon, and it was full--this time we eeny meeny'd from the choices in the Budget category in the Lonely Planet, and picked a hotel ahead of time, and booked it.
The LP guidebook says this about Hospedaje Tzutujil "Down a little alley set among the cornfields, this is one of the best budget deals in town, with clean modern rooms, balconies, and firm beds. Upstairs rooms have fantastic mountain views."
Well, they were right about the cornfields. The rooms weren't bad for $20 a night with a private bath and hot water. The view was so-so. There were no blankets in our room (Ron and Dorothy found theirs in the morning in the bedside table, but we didn't have any). The sheets were very low quality and the pillows were lumpy.
LP also didn't mention that there was a public basketball court next door (see last photo in the album). They played a lively game of basketball, with the whole town in attendance, until about midnight.
The next day, we visited a couple of other places in about the same price range, that had also been on our list. The one we'd come back to next time ended up being moved in the 2007 guide from LP's Budget category to the Moderate category (the price went up to $25/night), was the Hotel Utz Jay. It has very nice rooms, a jacuzzi, a small restaurant on site, a travel agency, and internet access. We didn't check the sheets and pillows, but I would assume they were better.
Note: If you don't like cheap sheets and lumpy pillows (they are endemic to the budget hotels), bring your own.
Lonely Planet says the Sunset Cafe was a 'don't miss'. However, we didn't see much sunset as the afternoon clouds were rolling across the river. But it was a nice view and a nice meal, and there was live music after dinner. (Dave and I were so tired after Chichi and a long day, we opted to head back to our room vs. staying for the music).
We actually did a little more shopping in the morning... I bought a really nice pair of sandals with Guatemalan cloth in the straps.
Next stop: 2 nights at the Hotel Casa del Mundo, on the side of Lake Atitlan.
Pictures of Panajachel http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws/Panajachel
Chichicastenango is a small town in the highlands area that has the largest 'indigenous' market in all of Guatemala. Held twice a week, it attracts native Mayan traders from highland villages for miles around. Stalls and blankets are set up on the plaza and the streets around it.
This is supposedly "the place" to buy local handicrafts like as textiles, masks and carvings, and jade jewelry.
We spent the night before Market Day in Antigua, and had booked spots on a 'shuttle van' that was going to Chichi early Saturday morning. Dave had done a great job of negotiating for the shuttle van ride. We wanted to essentially move from Antigua to Panajachel with a stop at Chichi for a few hours. That wouldn't be too tricky, because on Market Day, all the tour operators go TO Chichi in the morning and AWAY in the afternoon... except for all our luggage... what to do with it while we're in the market. He talked with several tour companies and finally booked us 4 slots on a van that was going from Antigua to Chichi and then on to Pana, with all our luggage.
Pickup time at the hotel was 7am. As the crow flies, Chichi's not that far from Antigua, but... you know our old drunken crow. It was close to a 2 hour drive, with a short stop for breakfast in between. All the van drivers line up on this one street, a block from the market. On the corner was a really nice hotel, with a beautiful courtyard and grounds. Dorothy and I made a potty stop while the guys took pictures of the parrots and an old guy playing an instrument made of gourds.
As we walked out of the hotel, we were immediately surrounded by people selling handicrafts... beautiful woven cloth, wooden carvings, jade and stone carvings, old coins. We ultimately had to wade past them to get to the market (which was the same thing 100 times over). Alleys and alleys of people selling beautiful things... none of which we had space for on the boat (or at home, for that matter). We quickly learned that if you walk away, the price drops immediatly by at least 25%. And as a rule of thumb, if you do some negotiating, you can get everything for 25-30% of the original asking price. It was fun negotiating and we did eventually buy a few things--"Christmas gifts".
Dave was intrigued by the old coins and some of the old stone carvings. After seeing the same thing in several stalls, we realized the coins are replicas and the 'old stone carvings' were probably new last week and rubbed with dirt to make it look old. But it was fun looking and dreaming about possessing valuable antiquities.
We had lunch in a nice restaurant that had a balcony over the main street, and showed each other the stuff that we'd bought. Even though we had had no intention of buying anything, we'd all bought a few things.
The restaurant was a nice break from the closeness of the market and being bugged by young and old to buy their stuff.
However, INSIDE the restaurant was a nice lady selling her stuff (probably someone's mother).
Ron took this great picture of her.
We met back at the shuttle bus at 2pm and were on our way to Panajachel and the lake Atitlan area.
See the rest of our Chichicastenango Photos