Two hour’s flight took us North to the exotic land of the Mayans, Guatemala.
We had heard wonderful things about the country of Guatemala and really wanted to go there. However we had also heard that it could be a very dangerous country to visit, with many stories of robberies and guns. The police and government here are not doing a good job of keeping the country safe, by not bringing criminals to justice. After weighing up the good stories with the bad, we decided that we didn’t want to miss out on such an interesting land and its rich culture.
We bypassed the country’s infamous capital, Guatemala City, with its gang problems and headed to the nearby and beautiful town of Antigua, with its colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. The city is surrounded by active volcanoes exploding with plumes of volcanic ash. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala, but as it was destroyed (and rebuilt) on numerous occaisions by the surrounding volcanoes and earthquakes the location of the capital was changed.The first thing noticed about this city (and the country) is that more than half of the people are the original inhabitants of the land, the Mayans. The Mayans wear the most magnificent clothing, which is of hand-woven cotton in every colour of the rainbow. The are famous around the world for being masters of this weaving, each regional group has its own designs so you can tell where a person comes from by the clothes that they wear.
This is the most active volcano in Central America, but does not explode like other volcanoes do due to it having cracks and crevases where lava can escape and ooze down the sides like rivers. This prevents pressure from builidng up to cause an erruption. Perhaps because Guatemala doesn’t have as many safety rules as Australia, we were able to take a tour to camp up on the volcano and see the lava up close (maybe a little too close at times). As we climbed the volcano (luckily a little away from our tent-site) the ground became very hot and we realised that fresh lava was glowing below the surface through the cracks in the rocks at our feet! We were climbing over freshly cooled lava which is as sharp as broken glass and we needed two walking sticks so we did not fall and cut ourselves, although Sarah still did and it even cut her through her trousers. Wehad to walk very carefully as it was uneven and brittle and sometimes broke under our feet.
Flowing lava is strange stuff, it looks like liquid but if you throw a rock onto it it just bounces off. It also makes strange gurgly crackling sounds, and glows bright (and extremely hot) even in the middle of the day. Freshly cooled lava looks like silver grey like a metal.
Lake Atitlan & Solola Markets
Although there are many markets to choose from in the country, we decided to visit the small town of Solola. There weren’t many tourists to be seen here and we felt like giants standing a head taller than everybody, believe it or not. Check out the colourful dress of the Mayans as they shopped for their groceries and fabrics.
We stayed in one of the cute little towns on the pretty Lake Atitlan, which is actually a large volcanic crater filled with water.
Semuc Champey & Lanquin Bat Caves
Semuc Champey is a series of spring water pools, held by a limestone bridge under which runs a large river, surrounded by walls of rainforest. It is hard to describe the beauty of this place, luckily the photos speak for themselves. After a hot and exhausting walk up to a look-out the pools were a perfect place to cool down.
On part of this river we visited a cave which is a still-used Mayan ceremonial place and is filled with bats. At sunset we sat at the entrance to the cave as thousands of bats flew out of the cave to hunt for the night. Their excellent sixth sense of echolocation (sonar) meant that they could avoid hitting us and flew around us quite easily.
Tikal is famous around the world, and probably the main reason we came to Guatemala. The ruins of a large Mayan city, dating from 400BC and located in the middle of an immense jungle which extends for as far as the eye can see. The city consists of temples, pyramids, and palaces where royalty and shamans lived. Only 20% of the buildings have been uncovered and restored, and you can still see mounds of vegetation which hide ancient pyramid structures.
Some of the temples can be climbed, which is quite a scary endeavour and they rise up to seventy metres and tower over the forest. The spectaclar views over the jungle to the other temples make the hair-raising climb well worth it. Some temples have been closed to climbing due to people falling to their deaths, off of the steep, uneven limestone stairs.
The jungle was alive with wildlife, with monkeys howling and many toucans and other birds. We took a night walk to try and find a jaguar, which are apparently still present in these forests, but unfortunately they must be too shy and we were unsuccessful. We have not yet seen a big cat in the wild!