Archive for March, 2009

Chichicastenango

chichi

Chichicastenango is famous for it’s indigenous market which is one of Guatemala’s largest.  Every Thursday and Sunday people from all over the Guatemalan highlands stream into Chichi to buy and sell an array of goods including colorful textiles, artisans, fruits, vegtables, flowers and farm animals. 

chichi churchOn Sundays people in traditional clothing crowd the steps of the church as firecrackers explode just a few feet away and elaborate processions make their way inside.  The red tube on the steps is used to launch the firecrackers, so you can see how close to the crowd they really are.

Climbing Volcán Pacaya

pacaya climb

Rising 2552 meters, Volcán Pacaya is the nearest active volcano to Antigua and makes for a challenging and exciting climb.  Once at the top it’s possible to get within feet of glowing rivers of lava.  Not to mention, the view of the three other volcanoes in the distance is outstanding. 

These guys brought their baby along for the climb.

baby

carlos

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s Carlos roasting marshmallows over the lava. 

Be sure to check out the rest of our Volcán Pacaya photos on flickr!

El Remate

 el remate lake

We made El Remate our base for exploring the ruins at Tikal.  An enchanting village on the lakes of Lago de Petén Itzá, El Remate is a small town, little more than a few posadas and comedores, located along the main road linking Flores and Tikal.  It’s a quiet, mellow place where farm animals roam wild and goats outnumber cars.

After a couple very pleasant, relaxing days in El Remate we bused to Guatemala City with plans to continue on to Quetzaltenango.  What was supposed to be a six hour ride turned into eight and we decided to stop over in Antigua instead.  It was getting late so we ended up splitting a taxi the remainder of the way with a nice Antigua resident, Edward, originally from Chicago and on his way back from renewing his paperwork at the border between Guatemala and Honduras.

Almost a year to the date of my last visit to Antigua, this town was my first introduction to Latin America and remains one of my favorites.  Carlos took an immediate liking to it as well and within a few hours we decided to put our trip to Quetzaltenango on hold and hang around for a while.  The next morning we were out apartment hunting and by late afternoon we had secured a place through Semana Santa.

Tikal

tikal

“Towering pyramids poke above the jungle’s green canopy to catch the sun.  Howler monkeys swing noisily through the branches of ancient trees as brightly colored parrots and toucans dart from perch to perch in a cacophony of squawks.  When the complex warbling song of some mysterious jungle bird tapers off, the buzz of tree frogs fills the background and it will dawn on you that this is, indeed, hallowed ground.” – Lonely Planet Central America

Caye Caulker

belize

It took two buses, a border crossing and a boat ride to reach the tiny Caribbean Island of Caye Caulker.  Located off the coast of Belize, Caye Caulker is actually two islands since Hurricane Hattie split the island.  Now “the split” has become the island’s most popular swimming spot and it’s where I sit now, under the shade of palm leaves, staring out into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the sounds of reggae music filling the air. 

Caye Caulker is a small place, no more than two main sand covered streets.  There are no cars and most people walk or bike.  Due to it’s size, location and history Caye Caulker’s identity is a unique blend of race, culture and language.  Most residents speak English, Spanish and Creole and in many cases switch between the three during the normal course of conversation.  American culture and influence are strong here.  I saw more than a few Philadelphia 76ers jerseys, and pictures of Barack Obama are everywhere. 

A reoccurring theme on the island is “go slow” and you are reminded of this at every turn, from the signs along the paths to the laid-back easy going nature of the people who after only one day were recognizing us and stopping to say hello.  After a couple of days I was really beginning to settle into the slow, easy-going pace of island life and ready for the next beachfront BBQ.

Tulum

tulum beach bar

Located 130 km south of Cancún the well preserved cliff-top Maya ruins at Tulum beach overlook expansive stretches of sparsely populated white sand beachfront and the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean.  Cabañas, camp sites and beachfront bars are scattered along the beachfront.

cobáInland about 42 km west of Tulum, the ancient city of Cobá was among the largest of the Maya cities.  It’s architecture more closely resembles that of Tikal (in Guatemala) than of Chichén Itzá or Uxmal.  Cobá is home to the tallest Maya structure on the Yucatán Peninsula, the 42 meter high great pyramid Nohoch Mul.  It was an exhausting climb to the top, but we did it!

Playa del Carmen

playa

After cutting our visit to Cancún short we headed about an hour south to the former fishing village turned resort town of Playa del Carmen.  Cancún’s tourist area consisted of several kilometers of spectacular beachfront lined with resorts, high-end shopping malls and an array of American themed restaurants and bars.  While strikingly beautiful, the beaches at Cancún are narrow and accessing them without an all-inclusive resort package wristband requires, at times, near mission impossible style maneuvers.  Separated from the town by several kilometers of highway, there is very little about Cancún’s beaches that feels authentically Mexican.

A much more relaxed and enjoyable base from which to explore the Riviera Maya is Playa del Carmen.  Equally beautiful, Playa caters to more than just the spring break crowd.  Here you can still buy your “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila…floor” t-shirt, conduct  all financial transactions in U.S. dollars and speak only English, though your dining options aren’t limited to Hooters or Señor Frog’s and it’s possible to take in a bit of Mexican culture should you so desire.  Our realization that these few resort areas are the most of Mexico that many visitors ever see was disappointing.  Even so, the perfect turquoise water and white sand beaches of the Yucatán are hard to resist. 

Now we’re headed for what will be our last stop in Mexico, the beachfront Maya ruins at Tulum.