Monday, November 28, 2016

The Tuk Tuk Bridge

I was so nervous when I first went across this bridge -- and it was in much better condition then! I'm still careful but it's not such a big deal anymore. You can get accustomed to a lot of things. :)

EDIT: When I posted this blog on my Facebook page, my friend, Mister Jon, proprietor of Mister Jon's restaurant on Santander in Panajachel, commented on the post with the two pictures and quotes below. AWESOME!!

"Tuk Tuk bridge during Tropical storm Agatha (2010). The bridge was built by tuk tuk drivers after Hurricane Stan (2005) destroyed what is now the blue bridge."
"This former pedestrian bridge was above what is now the blue bridge and was destroyed by Agatha. this forms part of the guard rail of the tuk tuk bridge."
I simply cannot believe how CRAZY the river is. We haven't had a big storm like this since I've been here. Looks so scary!

Thanks for sharing your photos, Mister Jon! (And for making great food and drinks!)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Tikal Adventure Part 3

Part 1 - From Panajachel to Flores and our first day
Part 2 - Tikal
Part 3 - Last day in Flores/Santa Elena and our trip home
I thought maybe this post wouldn't be long enough to be interesting but it turned out that our last day in Santa Elena/Flores and our trip home was more exciting than I thought it would be!

To start off, we had to leave the hostel at 10 am. Our bus home didn't depart until 9 pm. How do you pass 11 hours???
Well, we should have stayed at the hostel as long as we could and abused their lounge and free WiFi. Alas, we were hungry and headed out to eat and then felt weird about trying to get back in. So we just spent the day wandering, checking the time, walking, sitting, eating, checking the time, walking some more, etc., etc. Somehow the day passed!
green heron Guatemala
A green heron. I love how still the waters are. We saw lots of birds at the lake plus turtles. We even had fun throwing cheezies to the fishies!
almond tree
Almond tree!
Santa Elena Petén Guatemala
The streets of Santa Elena, Petén. Blah. Not my kinda city.
Posing with the fake Mayan statues outside the mall!
Bert pretending to have casually discovered an ancient Mayan carving. :)
Flat boats that will take you on a tour of Lake Petén Itzá.
Cormorants, a seagull (??), and an egret in the back.
TIP: If you're going to Tikal and want to pack a lunch, there are two grocery stores in Santa Elena. There is a Despensa Familiar on 4a Calle (walk or ask a tuk tuk to take you for Q5 per person), or even easier, there is La Torre supermarket right in the little mall by the Burger King at the causeway to the island of Flores. It's a bit hard to find in the mall, You have to go to the end of an aisle and there is only a small doorway. We only found it because we kept seeing people walking out of the mall with grocery bags!

Our stroll through the grocery store was the highlight of our day. HA! We were so goofy and stood out so much that the security guards were following us.

Frozen pupusas??? Interesting idea. But why buy frozen when you can get fresh?
Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Coke Life? I didn't think they made these types anymore.
I think we ended up at the bus station at, like, 4pm. Ugh, Five hours to go. We just sat and talked and watched people going by. At some point, I sat in some oil and my shorts were COVERED in black. All over my butt! So I snuck between two big buses to change.
Also, don't go in the bathrooms in the bus station if you can help it. Icky icky icky! Probably the worst I've been in so far in Guatemala. *shudder*

Around sunset, a whole bunch of folks came and set up barbecues and taco stands near the bus station. It smelled so delicious! And it was only Q15 a plate. But we had bought ham, cheese, mustard, and bread at the grocery store to make sandwiches, plus a ton of snacks, so we didn't have room for BBQ.
Smokey barbecues set up at the bus station. Great food for only Q15.
Finally, our bus was ready and we climbed on at just past 9 pm, relieved to be finally on our way. The ride from Santa Elena to Guate City was a lot more peaceful than the ride there. There was no fruit inspection on the way back. Sweet! We stopped once at that gas station/FDN station at 1:30 am, then arrived in the city at 5:50 am. Our shuttle driver was right there waiting for us, but it took ages for him and another driver to get all the passengers organized.

FDN bus station Fuente del Norte Guatemala City
The FDN bus station in Guatemala City in early morning. This picture is as blurry as I felt!
Our shuttle went fairly quickly from the city to Antigua, and then dropped us off at a closed travel agency. The driver told us to wait there for a half hour. Another couple, who spoke little Spanish, were told to wait as well. They were going to Pana too. We grabbed coffees from a hostel nearby and chatted while we waited. We started getting nervous when a half hour passed, then 40 minutes, but soon enough the same driver came back with the same shuttle and loaded us on again. We drove around town picking up tons of passengers from all over, and eventually headed out of town at 8:40 am.

Our shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel was a very interesting ride. There was a young woman -- 29, she said -- who was so super chatty! She did NOT STOP the entire ride. She talked with the passengers around her about politics, refugees, world travel, Northern Ireland, teaching, and on and on. It certainly was fascinating to listen to...but I was tired and just wanted some quiet! I wish I had met her in a bar or restaurant instead of on a shuttle home after 12 hours on the road. I think we would have had some great conversations. :)

Another unexpected thing about our shuttle ride home was that we stopped for things. Every other time I've been on the shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, we just went straight through, no stopping. This time, our driver pulled over at this neat place called Chichoy and let us stretch our legs for 10 minutes.
I've always wanted to stop there. It's so different from everything nearby. It's in a pine forest. PINE! It smelled like home! The buildings are made of wood, which is highly unusual. (Wood is for cookfires.) I didn't get a good picture of the huge building but you can go to TripAdvisor and see some more pics and a review of the restaurant there. It seems like it serves some pretty amazing barbecue.

Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
The grounds of Chichoy.
The bridge was so bouncy that I felt wobbly for several seconds after getting off it onto the pavement!
This goose was none too pleased at sharing his personal space with so many tourists. :)
Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
Each door at Chichoy's had amazing burls built into it.
Chichoys Tecpan Guatemala
Inside Restaurante Chichoy. Wow! So much wood!
The other fun stop we did was for a quetzal bird. The driver was booting along the highway when suddenly he got very excited and started pointing up the cliff into the trees. He started talking rapidly in Spanish about a female quetzal bird. He pulled over and we all piled out the van. The driver gestured and pointed and explained and pointed again...but none of us could see it! We were all standing on the side of the highway, shading our eyes from the sun and staring like dummies up at a hill! It was awesome. We all had a good laugh that we couldn't see this amazing bird that the driver was so enthusiastic about. I wish just one of us had seen it!
Do you see the Quetzal bird? No, neither did we! We said it must be because we're not Guatemalan. :)
Our awesome driver even stopped at the second mirador after Solola so everyone could marvel at the beauty of Lake Atitlan. I was super excited to be home! I pointed out a few landmarks to the people on the bus. It lifted my heart to see the lake again.
Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan and Panajachel in the bottom left.
I spent a few minutes on the shuttle talking to the passengers as we descended to Pana, just helping them with simple questions. Once they learned I lived there, they wanted to know all sorts of stuff. I was happy to help. Some of them were only staying a few days, others were staying a few months. One couple was considering moving there so we had a good talk. I hope I see them around town so I can find out they're enjoying it.

So that's the story of our Tikal trip. It was awesome but too short. I would love to go back to Tikal and take my time seeing the park again. Not looking forward to so much travel time but it's worth it once you get there!

Thanks for reading and happy trails, everyone!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tikal Adventure Part 2

Part 1 - From Panajachel to Flores and our first day
Part 2 - Tikal
Part 3 - Last day in Flores/Santa Elena and our trip home
This is gonna be picture-heavy, so hang on to your bandwidth!

We booked our tickets from Flores to Tikal through San Juan travel agency on the main street in Santa Elena. They had better prices than the hostel and you could choose to just get a bus ride without a guide. (Warning: I have read many reviews that these guys will rip you off, sell fake tickets, and pressure you into tours. We had no problems but just want to give the heads up.)
We decided not to get a guide for Tikal because we wanted to be free to wander as we pleased and not get bogged down with a group. We missed out on learning a lot about the park but that's okay.

PRICES per person
Bus to Tikal, no guide, return trip: Q80
Entrance fee to Tikal: Q150

The shuttle picked us up at our hotel at 4:30 am. The ride was about an hour and a half, so we arrived at the gates to Tikal right at 6 am when they opened. The guide boarded the bus and we gave him our money for tickets. He went and bought them for us and returned the stubs to us in the bus. We didn't even have to get out!
After crossing through the gate into Tikal, it was still another 10-minute bus ride to the main center. There were a lot of signs saying to watch for animals of all kinds: deer, snakes, coatis, jaguars, you name it! Of course, we saw nothing. Oh well.

Arriving at the center area, the bus driver showed us where to get coffee. Ah, sweet black nectar! It was only Q10 and was actually pretty good. Fueled up, we bought a map for Q20 and headed off on our own. The rest of our bus group seemed to go off with the guide.

TIP: Listen to your bus driver when he tells you what time(s) the bus departs Tikal to return to Santa Elena/Flores. There are varying times and you could end up missing your bus or waiting two hours for the next one, like we did. Or else paying for a different bus if you miss the last one of yours!

As we walked through the park, it was amazingly quiet. We saw no one else. No tourists. No guards. No one. AMAZING. Birds twittered in the trees, spider monkeys foraged overhead, the sun was low in the sky so the jungle trails we walked on were shady and cool.
One of the first things you see in the park is the national tree of Guatemala, the ceiba. Yup, it's tall!
Empty pathways. No tourists! Just us.  :)
Before we even found our first set of ruins, we were greeted by a foraging group of coatis. There were even little babies!
Tikal National Park Guatemala coatis pizotes
Bert and some of the coatis. (Also called coatimundis and, in Guatemala, pizotes.)
There's a video on my YouTube channel of the little cuties as well. :)

I had the map and immediately led us astray. We ended up at ... wait, let me check ... um ... Plaza of the Pillars? Ha! Yeah, we were totally unprepared for this trip!
Okay, so here's the website I'm using to match our pictures with what we saw. Tikal: Uncovering History
Oh, and I lost the map later. Yeah. We are pathetic jungle explorers! Indiana Jones would be aghast! At least we brought water, bug dope, and Nerds candy! (Bert was our sherpa and carried the bright purple backpack all day.)
The first ruins we came across and we got to sneak through this dark opening to get into them!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins
Palacio Acanaladuras -- Palace of the Pillars. See them on the left?
Bert really really REALLY loved climbing on the ruins. :)
Mark playing the part of intrepid explorer!
Even though we didn't know what the buildings were all called, it didn't stop us from being open-mouthed in amazement.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
The back of the King's Pyramid, I believe. See how low the sun is? Yeah, it was early!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
It was super awesome to be in the park so early. Later on, this structure was covered in tourists. We got to see it all empty and quiet. It was magical.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Temple II, the Queen's Temple, also called the Temple of the Masks because of the carvings at the top.
Temple II in the main plaza is one of the few pyramids you can go to the top of. You climb up wooden stairs at the back. People aren't allowed to climb the big temples using the stone stairs anymore cuz they were falling and dying. True story. :(
Bert said, "You could kill yourself just as easily falling off the smaller pyramids." Ha!

Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple
Many buildings and stelae (the gravestone-type thingies) in the Main Acropolis. We climbed up this later in the afternoon. Be sure to peek into the thatched huts. They are sheltering cool carvings and stuff.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Temple I, the Temple of the Jaguar, where one of the kings was buried. A bit washed out cuz the sun was rising behind it.
The Great Plaza is the central area surrounded by temples and buildings. It was empty when we were there in the morning and filled up with tourists by about 10 or 11 am.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins stela
Doing my research now, I've discovered this is Stela 10. Info here.
What was kinda neat about the buildings and stelae in Tikal was that they came from different time periods.
This one looked quite different from the others.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Bert on top o the Temple of the Masks! It's taller than it looks in this picture.
We wanted him to scream out, "I'm king of the world!" He wanted to scream, "Bow before me, peasants!"
The stairs on the back of Temple II.
Looking down the stairs of Temple II.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins
Little details everywhere.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
The top of Temple II.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Morning view from the top of Temple II, looking at Temple I.
Both these temples were built by the same guy, the son of the king and queen.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
More details on Temple II. A lot of the top parts of the temples are reconstructed because when they pulled off the jungle plants, it ripped off the stonework.
Ocellated turkeys. They were so pretty! Almost like peacocks. Video on my YouTube channel.
A temple that hasn't been excavated yet. There were tons of bumps and triangular hills in the jungle, just waiting for folks to dig them up!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Bert climbing more temples while Mark and I rest. I think tis might have been one of the "twinned" pyramids.
And this is how you get DOWN!  :)
An agouti!!  I was super excited to see him. Bert pointed him out in the forest. :D
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins jungle trail
A bit of treacherous hiking through the jungle of Tikal. Slippery!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
I think this is called Complex Q. I liked the altars.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins stelae altar
I was grateful that Mark had paid for a guide when he visited Palenque before coming to Tikal. He was explaining some Mayan architecture things for us! There are nine stelae to represent the nine doors of the underworld. Very cool.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Damn fine staircase.
Hmmm... So, no swimming?
I had a giggle over this restaurant sign pointing into the jungle. Mark said that perhaps the restaurant is for the jungle animals and we're the food!
Tikal National Park Guatemala watering holes
These are watering holes for the animals. Cool, eh?
We took a mid-morning rest after seeing a bunch of stuff and had a nice breakfast sandwich at the restaurant near the museum and vendors, very close to where we were first dropped off. Coffee was Q10 with a free refill (an unusual thing in Guatemala!) and double-decker fried egg sandwiches with onion were Q35. That was all they served but we didn't care. We were just hungry! Having started our day at 4am, it felt a lot later than it actually was.
We wanted to go in the museum but it cost extra and we were short on money. We had lots more to see, so we headed back out into the jungle.

Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid inscriptions
That's all writing on the back of the temple! It's called the Temple of Inscriptions, or Temple VI.
Tikal National Park Guatemala stone Base 01 H.217.761
Hmm, curious plaque in the dirt. (Plus my pretty toes!) I cannot find any information on what it means. Probably an excavation marker.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins stela altar
A carved circular altar and standing stela, protected by a thatch hut.
At this point, I handed the camera over to Bert. He took a LOT of pictures! He had a lot more energy than Mark and I. He climbed up any structure that didn't have a sign saying not to and took pix of anything that caught his eye.
Crazy jungle vines up a tree.
Temple rising out of the jungle.
Plants take over things so quickly!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
It was neat to walk through the jungle for 10 or 15 minutes, just trees and birds and dappled sunlight, and then you turn a corner and see a huge temple in the distance.
I think the white parts are reconstructed. Very cool details.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Hmm, I don't think that's the climbable side! I'm sure Bert would have tried though, if let him.
Bert said he was surprised that it wasn't that "jungley". I mean, it wasn't rainforest jungle but it was pretty darn dense. We told him to take a few steps off the path and see how jungley it felt!  :)
Yeah. Bert totally entered.
Around the side of one of the big pyramids, we saw this sign. Here's the scene that played out.
Bert: Well, if we're not supposed to enter, why isn't it blocked off?
Me: Just go in a little bit and check it out. Take the camera.
Mark: This is a bad idea.
It was like a scene from a horror movie! Bert was the dumb adventurous one, I was the girl stuck in the middle, and Mark was the voice of reason. All we were missing was an eerie soundtrack!
But no, Bert did not fall into a hole and open the gates of hell or release a zombie virus or anything such thing. He just walked in a ways, hunched over cuz the ceiling was so low, and took a few pictures. He said the floor sloped up near the end.

Would YOU have gone in here?
We climbed up there! (But around the side where it wasn't so steep.)
Bert went exploring and took photos of everything. Even he doesn't remember which temple this was. :)
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
The main plaza around noon. More people around.
Looking down across the main plaza.
"Don't go down." The stairs are super steep!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
The Mayans must have had killer leg muscles! Sooooo many stairs everywhere.
Mark and I resting in the shade while Bert scampers around the ruins with the camera!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
There's me and Mark again, and the Temple of Masks, Temple II, that we climbed that morning. I highly recommend taking the early bus as you can get pictures without tourists all over the ruins.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Another view of Temple I, the Temple of the Jaguar. Imagine climbing those stairs!
Not sure what Bert was looking at here. Carvings? Lichen?
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
I think we said this was the bathrooms. Totally not true. We were just tired and making things up.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins
We went in the top of one of the smaller temples and found this little room. Mark told us that the guide in Palenque talked about this area all being covered with wood and palm leaves and it had doors and air holes.
The stairs down!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Side view of Temple I. I wouldn't climb those stairs even if it was allowed!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins
I think this was behind one of the buildings that faced out into the Great Plaza.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple
Sure, build more stairs. It's FINE. Did the Mayans not know about ramps? Ha ha!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins doorway
Notice the wooden lintel? Apparently, there were really fanciful carved wooden lintels on the doorways but they were taken away to the museum.
Supermodel pose! Yay, Tikal!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
As Mark and I were sitting down there, I was telling him that I was having a hard time soaking it all in. It was overwhelming. So we pondered what it would be like to be Mayans sitting in the shade on a hot day 1,300 years ago. Mind boggling.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan spider monkey
Bert was busy taking pictures and I said to him, "Turn around, there's a spider monkey." He was like, "Whatever." I was like, "No, really. He's right behind you!" The monkey was sitting in a tree looking down on Bert with curiosity. Then he peed (the monkey, not Bert) and started touring through the trees.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid spider monkey
The monkey climbed down from the tree and walked off through the ruins!
Bert took this picture from inside one of the upper rooms. It's like windows from one room to the next.
Bert said there was a lot of graffiti scratched into the walls in the upper areas. Not cool. But maybe in another 1,000 years, people will find it interesting.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Looking at these pictures, my mind is blown once again at the feat of archeticture.
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins carving
I love the details. And Mark told us they did all this without metal tools. Just hard rocks chipping away at softer rocks.
Bert exploring some more. He almost wiped out on these stairs!
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins
Hmmm, holes?
Tikal National Park Guatemala Mayan ruins temple pyramid
Just to show you what a nice camera can do. *sigh* Mark took this picture of me taking a picture of Temple I in the main acropolis. It more correctly shows the bright greens and blues. I need a new camera, it seems! Sorry to all my reader for the blah photos. 
We have tons more pictures but I think I might just upload them to my Shutterfly page so you all can peruse at your leisure.
Here is just one of the videos I took in Tikal. More on my YouTube channel, as I'm sure you're aware! Turn on the closed captioning if you can't hear what I'm saying in the video. It was so peaceful and quiet, I felt like I had to whisper!

As I said earlier, pay attention to your bus driver when he tells you what time the bus goes back to Flores/Santa Elena. We were tuckered out by 12:45 but the bus had just left at 12:30 so we had to wait until 3pm for the next one. We just sat in the shade and ate Nerds and waited. Since we arrived at the park at 6 am, we spent about six hours exploring.

Even with all that time, we never made it over to Temple IV, which is the furthest temple and the one that you can climb to see the view of the other temples peeking through the jungle canopy. Somehow we missed the turn for it, and by the time we realized we had not seen it, we were too tired to walk more. Disappointing but I guess it's something to look forward to for next time!

Great place for some facts, but not all structures are explained: Uncovered History
A cool blog that helped me with research and fact-checking is here: Well, How Did I Get Here.
Tour guide website with lots of cool pictures, including awesome aerial shots of Tikal: Tikal Park