Hiatus Week in Guatemala (Part 1)

Posted from Río Dulce, Izabal, Guatemala.

And we’re back…on the road.  Well, actually, this post is about our time back on the road last week.  As of Sunday the 11th we are once again stationary (as opposed to stationery) for another two weeks of refresher Spanish courses in a larger Guatemalan city.  It will be fun to see a different side of life in this country – the “big city” life.  (This is our first experience living in a hostel and – spoiler – so far… well… let’s just say it’s a new and different experience.  And we’ll leave it at that.)  Because we were tourists last week exploring different parts of the country, we’re splitting last week into two posts because we took so dang many pictures.  You can view them here.  Part 2 will come later this week.

Last week Sunday, after bleary-eyed 6am farewell hugs, we left our beloved host family in San Pedro La Laguna and headed out for the eastern part of Guatemala.  It was a seven-hour drive to the city of and the ruins in Quiriguá, which is one of three UNESCO heritage sites in Guatemala.  The ruins include tall structures called estelas, which are somewhere around 1200 years old, give or take.  It isn’t often that one gets to admire the handiwork of people from so long ago, and we really enjoyed not only the structures but the ruins of the buildings that they created for their government.  We were fortunate enough to be there in the afternoon when most of the tourists had already left and had some good quality time with the fantastic sights.

A bonus of that park was that they allowed us to camp in their parking lot overnight for free – after we paid the park admission fees, of course.  We were the only ones there that night, except for the security staff and these very frustrating little black bitey bugs.  That night it poured buckets on us – rain like we’ve haven’t experienced since New Mexico in early December.  Strangely, neither Apollo nor Maggi managed for get thoroughly cleaned after their respite in the parking space of the Spanish school in San Pedro.

Monday morning we head for the Rio Dulce area.  We got a room at a “resort” on the Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala.  Once again, we were the only visitors on the premises.  That afternoon we spent some time at a nearby hot falls; the water pouring off the rocks was like a hot shower, but the pool beneath was surprisingly chilly.  It was a cloudy, cool, and breezy day which carried into the night.  It must be delightfully tropical and exotic when the weather is warm and balmy; why else would our windows only have screens but NO window panes?  In the end, after asking for and receiving two rather thin blankets from the owner (who was a little surprised by the request), we slept in clothes that night.

Tuesday we made a quick drive to the town of San Felipe, the home of El Castillo de San Felipe, a castle built in 1595 as protection from pirates.  It was a rainy, dreary day, and we explored the castle for a few hours, again virtually alone.  There were no frills to the castle; it wasn’t “enhanced” for tourists.  Just a maze of empty rooms, secret passageways with no light provided, and dangerously short walls overlooking steep drops that would never be allowed in an area of public use in the U.S.  We stayed the night in another hotel.  Our hotel choices are always comparable in cost to the fees associated with camping (when not free) and they provide bathroom facilities, oftentimes dining and wi-fi possibilities, and certain protection from the elements.  Sometimes a hot shower is just worth it.  Trust us on that one.

On Wednesday morning we headed to the city of Rio Dulce and set up lodging in the parking lot of a hotel/restaurant for just over $6.  Yes, in the parking lot.  We arranged for a boat trip down the Rio Dulce to the city of Livingston, which, since it lies on the Caribbean Coast, has an interesting mix of native Guatemalan (Mayan) people and the Garifuna, people of Caribbean Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize who are descents of African slaves from the 17th century and who now speak an occasionally confusing mix of Caribbean and French with some traces of African languages thrown in for good measure.  The boat ride to Livingston lasted about two hours, which included a couple small stops along the way.  Our boat was filled with passengers with one-way tickets: they had backpacks along and would be staying at hotels that were only accessible by boat.

The weather was nice, sunny, and warm.  In Livingston we were able to once again see the Atlantic Ocean, which we last saw in August as we exited Newfoundland, Canada.  We strolled through the streets, which were lined with the usual market stalls selling textiles and trinkets.  We stopped at a bar so that Erik could sample an authentic Garifuna drink called “guifiti,” which is made from coconut rum and infused with herbs.  It was bitter.

Although our boat was supposed to depart Livingston at 5:00, we had to wait for our captain (for some reason) and didn’t depart until 5:15.  We were still sure that we would get us back by our promised 6:30 arrival time in Rio Dulce.  All was going well on the boat; we were going fast and the river breeze wasn’t cold at all.  Around 5:50, for no apparent reason, we stopped in the middle of the river.  At first we thought maybe it was because the sun was setting and the captain wanted us to experience that.  But our thoughts changed when it became obvious that not only did he not intend to stop but that he wasn’t able to get the boat started again.  And then, after 10-15 minutes of trying to get a spark, he killed the battery.  The sun was down, the moon was up, and we were in the middle of a quickly darkening river with no more boat traffic.

After waiting over an hour with four other passengers who all had working cell phones, a rescue boat arrived.  But it wasn’t as simple as zipping off back to Rio Dulce.  Oh, no.  Of course we had to tow the lame boat, which meant we were no longer racing over the waves.  This was painfully slow.  On the bright side, the weather could have been much worse than it was and the full moon was nice and bright.  Arriving back at Uli close to 8:30 (two hours late), we scarfed down a dinner of bean sandwiches and went to bed.

If you think that sounds glamorous, just wait until you read where we stayed Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  Oh, yes.  But wait you will.  In the meantime, although our narrative of the first few days wasn’t action-packed, the pictures are pretty nifty, so enjoy our photos from the first part of the week.  And stay tuned for more photos and tales from the rest of the week.

Coming up:  Awesome photos from the historic city of Antigua, almost getting busted by a cop for secretly imbibing on the grounds of the police station, the most glamorous “campground” yet (that’s sarcasm, folks), and WINE!

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