Lake atitlan - view from San Marcos La Laguna

Guatemala

Flores, is a town in Peten, Guatemala. The town is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, connected to land by a causeway, it was a beautiful setting, and we stayed in accomodation right on the lake, the best thing was the breeze off the lake – it was the coolest we’d felt in a few weeks….

A view of the lake from Flored
A view of the lake from Flores
View of the lake at sunset
View of the lake at sunset

The food was great too, it had some Mexican influences, but it just tasted better in my opinion anyway- for breakfast we had huevos rancheros, and it came with fried plantains, it was delicious, I also had a bowl of wholemeal oats made with coconut milk, also delicious…

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The following day, we’d booked a tour to Tikal, the ruins of an ancient city found in a rain forest in Northern Guatemala, archaeologist estimate that the Maya settled in the area now known as Tikal in around 900 BC. We’d booked a sunrise tour, so we got picked up at 3am, which gave us enough time to get to the park, climb the highest ruin – Tikal Temple IV before dawn broke – however mine and Tom’s luck must have ran dry that particular day, as it was misty, so we never saw the sunrise, however it was a great time to be there, away from the hoard of crowds, and at a time when the rain forest was just beginning to wake up, hearing the birds chirp their dawn chorus, see the leave cutter ants carrying on their duties come light or dark, and hearing the howler monkey’s screech to protect their territory – it was spectacular.

View from Tikal temple IV
View from Tikal temple IV
Tikal temple
Tikal temple
Tikal
Tikal

Our tour guide was amazing too, spoke impeccable English, and was a rain forest biodiversity guide for a living, working with the national geographic and the TV show survivor. Whilst showing us the ruins and its history, he talked us through the biodiversity of the rain forest and the animals and creatures that live in it.

Rainforest canopy
Rainforest canopy

When we first arrived me and tom had commented on the smell – it smelt like chicken soup, our guide, later informed us that the smell only occurs once a year, when the flowers from the Sequoia tree falls.  He showed us wild celantro, which the Mayan’s used in their cooking, due to its vast presence; showed us a termites nest, where he told us to grab a few and eat them, telling us “they taste like carrots” – he wasn’t wrong.

Termite nest
Termite nest – apologies out of focus

Next on the list was a tarantula, our tour guide, went into the forest and came out holding one, so of course me and Tom both held it (when in Rome), it was really soft and gentle, not what you’d expect… however it was only a baby.

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Tom holding it...
Tom holding it…

After three days in Flores, we jumped on an overnight bus from Flores to Guatemala city, then a taxi from Guatemala city to Antigua. Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala, famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture, as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches.

Streets of Antigua surrounded by volcanoes
Streets of Antigua surrounded by volcanoes
Antigua famous arch
Antigua’s famous arch

On the two days we were there we went to Pacaya – a volcano which is still active, but hasn’t errupted since 2010

View of the other surrounding volcanoes half way up the hike
View of the other surrounding volcanoes half way up the hike
Pacaya - Volcano
Pacaya – Volcano

Guatamela has 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands… We walked up halfway to where the lava had once flowed, despite it last errupting in 2010 heat was still admitting from it – our guide pulled out a bag of marshmellows and we toasted them on the lava rocks – not something you do everyday!

Toasting marshmellows
Toasting marshmellows
After toasting
After toasting
In front of the lava
In front of the lava

Guatemala, also has numerous cocoa plantations, although we didn’t go out to one of the plantations, we did go to the Choco Museo, and take part in a two hour workshop, which went through the history of chocolate and how it was deeply routed in Mayan culture, before being shipped off and altered by the Spanish colonial rulers. We also went through the process, how the beans are cultivated for making chocolate. With our aprons on, we set about making our own chocolate, roasting the beans, skinning them, crushing them into nips and then grinding them to make a paste, it was really good fun and our teacher Edwin was brilliant. We made chocolate tea, as well as traditional Mayan hot chocolate – it was quite literally from bean to cup, and a great experience…

After being shown the technique, we were each given some melted chocolate and various molds, and set about making our own chocolate, using flavours such as, chili, salt, ginger, orange, coconut, macadamia etc. After leaving them in the fridge for 45 minutes they were packaged up and given back to us – they looked impressive – me and Tom were really pleased with the outcomes, and they tasted delicious – only downside was we didn’t have a fridge back at our hostel, so we had to eat them pretty quick.

Edwin
Edwin doing his thing
The different flavours to add to our chocolate
The different flavours to add to our chocolate
The moulds
The moulds
The fnisihed product
The fnisihed product

After three days in Antigua we headed to Lake Atitlan, a beautiful volcanic lake in the Western Highlands, ringed by small quaint towns.

Lake atitlan - view from San Marcos La Laguna
Lake atitlan – view from San Marcos La Laguna

Arriving at Panajachel (the main port) we got a boat to take us to San Marcos La Laguna, as Valerie had recommended a hotel – it didn’t disappoint, the hotel was set in these spectacular tropical gardens, teaming with hummingbirds, blue dragonfly’s and butterflies, it was lovely to relax in the cooler climate, because we were at altitude – pure bliss. We opted for the budget accomodation $8 a night, wow, it was like 4-star accomodation, just lovely… The town itself, reminded us of Varkala in India, really chilled out,  geared towards yoga and meditation, with quaint paths leading to hippy’esq cafes and shops.

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One of my favourite pictures, a lady carrying her peaches ready to sell to passing trade

The food was great, we ate a curry one night – our first curry in 5-months, very satisfying for the taste buds… One morning we headed out to breakfast and I was intrigued as to what one of the waiters was eating at the spot we’d picked to eat – he told me it was potato croquettes – but they looked more like potato cakes, anyway he said they were just for staff usually, but he’d see if they might be able to knock me some up. Anyway they did, it was delcious, served with salad, mashed avocado and a salsa…

Guatemalan cusine
Guatemalan cusine

Next to our hotel was a nature reserve, which had maintained trails to high vistas, so you could look over the lake and see the trio of volcanoes, on hiking we bumped into a guy, Tim from Texas who was staying at our hotel, we swapped stories and then we all headed to the trampolin, a wooden platform, high up, allowing you to jump into the lake, Tom was first up, followed by Tim, them me – after jumping, about a quarter way down, you got that “ah shit” moment – anyway it was good fun, the lake was lovely to swim in, so refreshing… After a few beers back at the hotel we all headed out to eat – a comforting Pizza and a bottle of Chilean red wine.

 The next day we got up early, and jumped on a boat to the neighbouring town on the lake, called San Pedro – a notorious party town – it was much more built up than quaint San Marcos, however had a lot more going for it! After checking into some budget accommodation Tim had recommended, we jumped on a Tuc-Tuc up to the base of San Pedro Volcano – on paying the entrance fee, you have the option of getting a guide to accompany you in with the price – we opted for one, although we instantly regretted it, Jose, was in a mad rush to get back for football for 3pm, we started the walk at 11.50am and the walk takes on average 3-4 hours. With that in mind, he was trying to put us off walking to the top, saying it’s possible etc, saying it is better to walk for 30 minutes to the first viewing platform. Anyway after much debate, him saying that “chica (as in me) isn’t going to make it” and us telling him “we didn’t need him, he could go back down, as we are going to walk to the top regardless” he phoned the office to see if this was possible, however they said it wasn’t, so low and behold we were stuck with him. After a few conversations on his phone, he managed to postpone the football to 4pm, which you could tell he was happy about, as his whole attitude and persona changed. He also managed to rope Tom into playing, as well. Regardless of the football time change, he still frogmarched us up a volcano 3,020 metres above sea level in the record time of two hours. Determined to prove him wrong, that I could make it to the top, I carried on at his pace.The top was spectacular – it was a little hazy – but the climb was worth the vista and that feel of achievement….

The view from the top of San Pedro Volcano and Lake Atitlan
The view from the top of San Pedro Volcano and Lake Atitlan

After racing back down – no exaggeration, Jose, was practically running down, after an hour, to my relief we got back to base,  as Tom was playing football, all three of us jumped into a waiting Tuc-Tuc which took us to the 5-aside pitch… It was a game of tour guides vs the Policia – Tom was given his shirt and took his position on the pitch – now Jose, failed to mentioned that his team had no substitutes and he was only playing in net – Tom after climbing a volcano non stop for three hours then had to play football for 1 hour, with no water to hand, as they’d ran out and only a 5 minute half time – he was shattered, but still managed to score four times…

Tom playing for the tour guides
Tom playing for the tour guides

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After a carb loaded dinner to restore our depleted energy levels, we hit the hay early and slept the clock round. Running a few errands the next morning, oh and finding a crab lurking around in our room, we left San Pedro and got a shuttle back to Antiqua, where we stayed ready for an early 4am pick up for our bus to Nicaragua.

The crab
The crab

One thought on “Guatemala”

  1. Good stuff tommy! 4 goals eh! laughed when i read about the border crossing in mexico…reminded me of crossing into afghanistan with john back in the day…dead of night it was and up at some remote mountain border post….we got invited into the hut with the guards and instead of being fleeced for money we were offerred a toke on a spliff…well not wanting to offend them we felt obliged to accept all the time wondering if they eould then clap us into jail for an unspecified amount of time for being drug users!!!!!!!
    Beth and i ha a similar misty early morning having got up before sunrise to climb up to top of a temple in the angkor wat complex to see a sunrise…just too much early cloud and beth clinging on to me like a limpet as we walked up thro the forest…she was always shit scared in the dark!!!!! jumping at every forest sound of wehich as you will know there are a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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