Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!


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20 August 2007
Onward to the Coast, again
A trip up the Rio Dulce

A fairly straightforward travel day. I finally got to take one of the funky little tuk-tuks that are so pervasive throughout Guatemala. (Never expected to see those outside SE Asia, but they are a cheap way to get around!) Took a long, hot bus trip to Rio Dulce, and grabbed a boat along with a French foursome for the ride up the river to Livingston.

entrepreneurial fisherkidYou can only get to Livingston, on the Caribbean Coast, by boat. The trip up the Rio Dulce is a nice one, about an hour of scenic travel past green cliff walls and the occasional fishing canoe. Our driver stopped a kid in a canoe who'd just caught a huge fish, and purchased his dinner for about 75Q. Nicely done!

We arrived at the dock and were greeted by a funky Rasta dude who offered to find us a hotel. I had already chosen a place based on a recommendation on the boards at Black Cat Antigua, so the dude walked me over there and we dropped off the French folks along the way. I don't know what this guy'd been smoking, but he kept up all kinds of crazy chatter about being 63 years old and living in New York before it was called that and hanging out with the Beatles. I was worried he was leading me off to someplace sketchy -- I'd heard some sketchy things about Livingston, a key stop on the drug trail -- but he did in fact take me to Casa de la Iguana as I'd requested.

Casa de la Iguana gardensThe place was great. Beautiful gardens, wooden bungalows and dorms with hammocks everywhere. The staff are about as friendly as you could ask, and I got a nice introduction to Iguana and Livingston by the lovely Allie. She gestured to a pile of bodies hanging out in front of the TV and mentioned that folks were still recovering from last night's drinking games. Good times.

Happy hour started around 6pm, and it was a bit mellow due to last night's craziness, but still quite festive. Everyone ate dinner together at 7pm, which was really nice, and very convenient, and then the drinking resumed afterwards. It was something of an early night, but still a nice introduction to what seems to be a great place to spend a few days.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


19 August 2007
Hurricanes? We don't need no stinkin hurricanes!
Once again, a quick shout-­­out while I am updating the blog entries. (Hey, I'm getting there! Have fallen woefully behind on the pics, though.) I did the 3am sunrise hike to Tikal today, which was challenging but also really REALLY fun. Tomorrow I'm headed to the Caribbean coast once again, to visit Rio Dulce and Livingston before heading to Honduras. Fingers crossed that Hurricane Dean continues on its northward path towards the Yucatan peninsula, which means it will likely bypass the area where I am. Never a dull moment!
Posted by soniaz at 5:30 PM | Link | 2 comments


Temples in the mist
Sunrise in Tikal

Getting up at 3am wasn't as bad as I'd thought. Guess it helps when you go to bed at 9pm! However, getting to Tikal was a bit of a CF. The Guatemaltecos could take some tourism lessons from the Ticos... they don't quite have it down yet...

So a bunch of us were waiting in the street outside the hotel at the appointed time of 3:20am. And we waited. And we waited. At about 3:45, a shuttle pulled up. Woo-hoo, our ride to Tikal! Nope, it was full. And everyone in the street had a voucher from a different tour company, so I had to wait for three or four more shuttles to come by before I finally got on one. And then the driver circled a few more loops while he figured out who else he needed top pick. Guess who it was? That's right, the ducks were back! Fortunately they were all a bit more subdued at that hour, and there was no chatter on the way to the park.

The ride was about an hour long, just enough time for everyone who had been awake enough to get in the shuttle to fall asleep and get really groggy by the time we arrived. They hustled us out, in the dark, and instructed us to follow a guide to the sunrise point. Again, for some reason the man found it necessary to sprint through the park, on a very uneven path, with only a small flashlight. I am amazed nobody broke an ankle or anything.

When we got to Temple VI, the highest temple in the park, it was time to climb a series of steep rickety wooden stairs. More of a ladder, really. Whew! This is hard work! At the top were probably about 100 other tourists, trying to find the best spot, rustling through their bags to find cameras and water, and just generally fidgeting like tourists do. Two girls were actually trying to meditate. The scene before us was shrouded in mist, with howler monkeys and other creatures starting to warm up with a chorus of screeches, chirps, and growls. Very mystical and mysterious, and mostly tranquil if you could ignore all the fidgeting people around you.

Eventually the sun started to come up, and the air was filled with the familiar beep-crunch of a hundred digital cameras firing off. Very gradually the sun started burning off the haze, and temple sillhouettes began to appear in the distance across a great valley. It was spectacular. And for once, the weather was on our side! The past few days had been disastrously rainy. Can you imagine all that work just to get up there and sit in the rain? Nope, we definitely lucked out. It was a wonderful sunrise.

We got re-organized into groups according to our tour company and preferred language. Louis, our guide, spoke pretty good English (although his accent did sound a bit like Father Guido Sarducci) and was incredibly knowledgable about Mayan culture as well as the various flora and fauna in the park. We spent the next few hours climbing temples, watching trees full of toucans and monkeys, and learning about the many species of plants in the park. It was the most wildlife I'd seen since Costa Rica! And in an amazing setting. The civilization of Tikal was abandoned eons ago, and the forest grew in and over and around it. They're still unearthing huge temples from under mountains of dirt and foliage. It's a fascinating place.

The best part of getting there so early was finishing up by about 10am. (I felt a bit like I'd been drafted into the army... We get more done before 9am than most people do all day!) This was perfect, because it was starting to get ridiculously hot, and crowded. Apparently that day was Guatemalans Get In For Free day, and huge buses full of schoolkids and other locals began pouring into the park as we were leaving. Timing is everything!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


18 August 2007
Pecked to Death by Jewish Mothers
A long schlep to Flores

(With apologies to Tim Cahill...)

Another long, hot, dusty travel day. It turns out that the Israeli families from yesterday's outing were also in my shuttle to Flores, the closest major city to the site of Tikal Mayan ruins and one of the most popular spots in Guatemala. No great surprise there. We are back on the Gringo Trail, after all. What made it exhausting was that the two moms from the two families had been chatting nonstop the entire trip yesterday, apparently hadn't stopped for a breath all night, and continued to chat away the entire five-hour shuttle ride to Flores. Now, Jewish Moms (and Bubbes everywhere), you know I love ya. But two days straight of listening to these women chatter away in Hebrew, a challenging language to listen to even on a good day, was almost more than I could take.

I was more than a little relieved when we arrived in Flores.

Turns out my first choice of a hotel no longer existed. (Another email update to the folks at Rough Guide!) And by the time I found a place it was pouring cats and dogs. Despite a desperate need to do laundry, I booked a spot on the sunrise tour of Tikal and tried to get an early night's sleep. Tomorrow would be another exhausting day!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments