Up early and close to the border as we head toward the Guatemala border our anticipation continues to grow, looking forward to discovering another new culture and country. The road starts to close in on us as people are set up on both sides selling fruits, vegetables and homemade goods. The chaos continues to build as tuk-tuks and scooters are going everywhere, switching sides of the road and passing where there is an inch to be held.
Add to this the massively loaded trucks, pickups loaded with people of all ages and colorful buses with goods and animals lashed to the roof and people hanging off every handhold. As we dodge the 2 kms of ever moving craziness including the potholes and tumulos, we arrive at the Guatemalan border, having missed entirely the Mexico exit point. Are you kidding me?? We never even saw it. Back we go to Mexico, through the chaos and after 30 minutes are stamped out, our bike bond returned to our credit card and are on our way back to the Guatemala border. Being directed to a parking space we start the procedure to get checked in. Everybody is helpful and after a couple hours in temps around 35°C everything is done and we are on our way.
We have reservations for the night not far from the border and the next day head to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America with an average depth of 220m. It is shaped by three volcanoes on the southern edge and a steep mountain on the north side. The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago.
As we arrive in Panajachel, I start to feel sick and it turns into a case of the “Mans Flu” or so I’ve been told. With advice from my good friend who diagnosed this terrible disease, Dr. Lorraine, Melanie is able to care for me and nurses me back to health from this dreadful disease. The town we stay in is largely a tourist town, complete with pushy vendors and nightly street walkers, so after a few days visit we are ready to move on and discover the real Guatemala. Next time through we will head to the other side of the lake.
Now the most direct way out of town, following the map and GPS, is a little road to Semuc Champey. I wrote about that in a previous blog, so we will fast forward to the Mayan Ruin of Tikal. This ancient Mayan ruin was a flourishing civilization dating from 4th century BC and at its peak from 400-900 AD which saw a systemic collapse of the Mayan civilization in the region. This site was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Finding a little hostel in the town of El Ramate we were about 30kms to the Tikal Ruins. El Ramate is at the edge of Lago Petén Itzá which is a clear, coolish and cleanish lake suitable for swimming.
There is a dock at the end of the street terminating in a meeting place for travelers and locals from where you can jump into the refreshing water which is about 3 meters deep. Let me tell you, this is so nice after a day of hiking about the ruins. The next day we are up at 0240am for the shuttle ride to the ruins for sunrise above the jungle mist on the top of pyramid #4. The one hour hike into and through the surrounding jungle is pitch black as we maneuver our way over rocks and above ground roots with just a couple head lamps to illuminate the path. Finally reaching the pyramid we climb through he darkness further and further to a very exposed ledge and steep stairs on the eastern side of the rock structure.
The sliver of the moon rising in the eastern sky along with the many stars of the clear but chilly morning helped provide us with shadows of other pyramids waiting in stoic silence to be backlit by the orange and reds of the impending sunrise. We silently wait as the jungle starts to wake up. Toucans and other birds start a symphony echoing through the treetops, then an isolated growl from the left as a howler monkey states his dominance followed shortly by another howler monkey from the right side, until the jungle is totally alive as a full spectrum of colors start to light up the morning sky. As the sky come to life the jungle mist seems to have an independent life of its own. The mist builds covering the structures on the hills in front of us, then, in continual movement, recedes into the valley revealing the mysteries it seems to want to hide as the next cycle moves into place. Finally, the sun makes peaks over the horizon signaling another day in the jungle, repeated over and over throughout history.
We spend the rest of the morning with a guide exploring the ruins of Tikal. As we arrive at one of the temples our guide takes a long piece of grass and starts twirling it around in a 2-inch hole in the ground. We stand around and watch as a large TARANTULA crawls out of this hole. Our guide grabs it from behind and places it upon his bare arm and it just starts to crawl, not seeming concerned at all. OK, Melanie and I are game and we put our hands in harm’s way and let this beautiful creature onto our hand and arm. The featherlight touch of its legs as it crawls over and around my hand wins out over fear and the tarantula must feel this as it stops moving and just sits there looking at me while I enjoy the bonding. Melanie follows me and is just as amazed.
A couple days later we visit the ruins Yaxha, on Laguna Yaxha and the site of the reality American TV show Survivor, season 11. Different, but just as nice and with less tourists, we are there for a sunset that we will be viewing from atop a temple overlooking the lagoon and river.
Soon it’s time to turn our wheels toward Honduras, with a brief stop in Rio Dulce, at the mouth of a jungle river that leads to the Caribbean coast. We take an afternoon walk to Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, a Spanish fort from 1644 that defends the entrance of Lake Izabel in eastern Guatemala. This has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is surrounded by a beautiful park on the edge of the lake.
Cheers, from 2WANDRRs.