y cumpleanos tambien
19.08.2009 - 27.08.2009
Crossing the border
Our adventures in Guatemala started with the weirdest border crossing we had so far in our travel. The day started very early on the Mexican side, waiting in the rain and in the middle of the jungle in El Panchan for our ride to the nearest border town. Most of the way to the border was spent not by riding but by waiting (the ride to the border is combined with a touristy travel to nearby Mayan ruins, so basically when we were few minutes away from the border we sat down and waited for other people to finish their touristy journey!).
The border crossing itself is in the middle of a national park, so – it doesn’t cost anything to leave the state, but since you’ve entered a park you have to pay an admission fee…After a short stop at the immigration office (still inside the national park) we walked to the river and took a boat to the Guatemalan side. Why not cross a simple bridge? The next town on the Guatemalan side is not in front of the Mexican one, so you have to take the boat (for about 40 minutes)…
The 40 min ride on the no-man’s land (?!!!)
On the Guatemalan side we found out that the next bus was about 2 hours later than we were told, and to complete the local ride experience the mini-van we took that has seats for 12 people was actually carrying 16 people sitting and 7 standing (and we think 2 were on the roof with all the baggage). Needless to say that the roads in these rural areas are not the best…
But the “best” part of the journey was to find out that the entrance fee to Guatemala that we (had to?) paid at the immigration office was a complete scam. The police officers charge about $5 per person, but the money is going directly to their pockets
Flores / Tikal
The little island of Flores in Lago Peten Itza was our first home in Guatemala. Little means you can cross it walking from side to side in 5 minutes. The fact that beside the big church in the middle almost all the houses on the island are a hostel, a restaurant, a souvenir shop or a travel agency doesn’t make it less cute
While in Flores we took a tour to the amazing Mayan ruins site of Tikal. The combination of the huge pyramids with the jungle around it is just great. The fact that most of the buildings are still buried beneath dirt and trees is funny – you get to walk between pyramid-shaped hills with monkeys and other animals running around.
Pyramid half clean, half taken by the jungle. Tikal style
Differently from Palenque, in Tikal we had the feeling that we were walking in the middle of the jungle, just to see the tops of the pyramids between the (high) trees.
As we were told that Flores is not as nice as other Guatemalan destinations (what we don’t agree) we moved a bit faster than usual to Semuc Champey. This area houses several caves with running water inside and we did a non-typical tour inside one of them: from the first moment inside the cave we had to swim, walk in deep water, climb rocks and steep ladders and all that with a candle in our hand as the only means of light! Needless to say it got wet and turned off a million times... when was the last time you swam with one hand holding a candle? Too bad we couldn’t have the camera with us, it was hilarious (when it wasn’t scary…). The cave was a walking distance from our guest house, and we’ve made the way back tubing down the river (ABUVIM in Hebrew. Took me, Shiri, back to the summer vacations in the Jordan Valley. Well, the rivers in Guatemala are not exactly the Jordan river…).
The other main attraction there is the Semuc Champey National Park, which is famous for the river that runs beneath some rocks, creating wonderful natural turquoise water swimming pools on top of the rocks. We spent half the day jumping down the stream, from one pool to the next, until the water comes out of the rocks again.
The view from the Mirador (viewpoint), we made it up there with flip flops!!!
On our last night there we made Shiri a small B-day celebration, with an Israeli dinner of schnitzel and chips (they ran out of humus…), wine and a cake (well, not a proper B-day cake, but that’s what we got).
Antigua Guatemala is our biggest deception until now, we thought (and heard) that the town keeps the same colonial style and atmosphere as San Cristobal, but somehow Thialand famous sentence can be applied here “Same same, but different”. Everywhere in Antigua is hold behind bars, from pharmacy to stationary stores, and at about 21:00 the small alleys are dark and with no one passing by.
So we decided to stay lesser than previously thought and did the only one really worth thing to do on the town: Climb the Pacaya Vulcan.
Of course, we choose exactly the hour that started to rain heavily ( if we can mess around, why not?) but is was a very different experience, to climb an active Vulcan, just several hours after a “river” of lava had flown from the top.
Tourists going up, lava down
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