Guatemala was awesome. Still some things I want to do, so looking forward to seeing Guatemala again. Anxious to get to Ecuador, though. Didn’t see a quetzal bird. Boo! But, we did have an awesome time – at least I did!
Our first day was in a town called Huehuetenango. Close to the border, but far enough to be out of the border craziness. A couple of days to get laundry done and see a set of Mayan ruins. At every set of ruins I have been to until now, the ruins themselves are roped off with “don’t touch” type signs all over them or you have to have a guide to take you through, making sure you don’t go where you shouldn’t. Not so at Zaculeu. The admission is 50 Quetzals for foreigners (5 for residents), and it is treated as a local park. Kids play soccer on the grounds; people have picnics, and everybody has a good time. Including the cattle staked out and grazing by the ruin of the residential palace. They had signs to keep off on a few of the more unstable ones, and everybody seemed to respect them. Other than that, you were welcome to climb on them and explore to your heart’s content. It was an awesome experience.
Do I look regal? I'm on the side of the residential palace.
Cows staked out by the ruins
These guys waved to get my attention so I would take their picture on the sacrificial temple.
And Bruce chose to climb those steps to be the sacrifice!
Then, we had snacks back at the palace
Couldn't miss "Scream, Guatemala"!
Trying to get out of Huehuetenango was an interesting prospect. The main drag cuts right through the marketplace. Definitely an interesting drive. There were several times we could have made a purchase as we were driving through. In fact, I think some vehicles did. Bruce says he knows what if feels like to be driving through the zombies in the Walking Dead, now. I’m just glad he didn’t plow right through them. He doesn’t have much patience when he’s behind the wheel – to say the least!
The buses here are adorable. Old Bluebird type school buses all tricked out. We drove past a lot full of them before having anything done to them. The bus I could read came from the James City Independent School System. Wasn’t able to get a picture of it, though. It appears that the longer they’re owned by the transportation company, the more tricked out they get. We saw some that just had the luggage rack, the windows silvered (I swear I don’t know how drivers see through the windows!), and the name of the bus and/or driver on the back window. And we saw the ones that were tricked out with four layers of shiny chrome work on the front, intricate paint jobs, chrome in various places on the sides and back, and all of the windows silvered out. Felt no need to ride one, though. I spent enough years in them. Of course, we weren’t allowed to hang out the emergency exit door when I was on them!
Livestock has the right of way here, too.
The government doesn’t seem terribly concerned about cleaning up after rock slides, either. I didn’t get a shot of it, but there was one spot where they just put jersey barriers around the slide area and rerouted traffic. Grass and small trees had taken root in them.
Flying kites seems to be a huge pastime here, at least in the northern part of the country. They had some awesome kites, and everybody was flying them. There was supposedly some type of kite festival in Antigua the day we left, too. The kites were all so beautiful! I wanted one and decided we’d pick one up on the way out of Guatemala. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a single kite stand once we got past Guatemala City. So, I still need a kite and missed some of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen!
And, then there’s Antigua. Let me get Bruce’s opinion of Antigua and their lovely cobbled streets out of the way real quick – “!*^#$^*^(#@” “Rasam Frasam Dick Dastardly!” “Darn place is going to shake everything loose on the truck!” (That last one was paraphrased a bit!)
Antigua is a lovely, very colorful city with cobbled streets (complete with a few sunken areas), and a very international flair. There’s a very heavy European influence, but it still keeps its Central American charm. There are some old buildings that are in ruin, and they may even be old enough to considered ruins. Even if they aren’t, I would have loved to explore them. They were blocked off, though.
We found and got settled into a hotel just before dark. We walked up the street to a little restaurant owned by a guy from Guadalajara, Mexico, and had some awesome Mexican food. Then, we found a guy selling tours to the Pacaya Volcano. Some tour companies call this an easy, three-hour hike to roast marshmallows on the volcano. I don’t know why they have to be so misleading. I had read a few reviews saying it wasn’t so easy, so I was prepared. Bruce decided that he would like to do this, but he just didn’t think he could do the three-hour walk and had no interest in riding a horse. So, I made this one on my own.
I wanted the early tour, so I was up in time for them to pick me up at the hotel at 6:00 a.m. He was just a few minutes early, but I was ready. Our group consisted of me, two groups of people from the UK (five people), and two groups of Hispanics. I seemed to be the one closest to speaking both languages. Our driver didn’t speak English, but the guide did, so my translation services were only required on the drive to and from the volcano.
When we got there, I paid my 50 quetzal admission fee, and was expecting the horse rental to be 100 quetzals. I left most of the money at the hotel with Bruce and just brought a little more than I thought I would need. Well, they were wanting 100 quetzals each way for the horse. I told them I only brought enough to pay 100 for the horse, both ways. They were insistent, and even said they’d take dollars. I had heard that the price goes down as you go up the mountain, so I gave my final “No tengo” and turned to rent a walking stick for 5 quetzals. A man pushed the other horse people away, calling “Taxi” (which is what they call the horses there), pointed at me and said, “Senora! Necessita taxi?” I told him, “Solo una siento para dos vias. No mas porque no tengo mas.” And with that, I had a horse, both ways for 100 quetzals. He was a beautiful, eight-year-old, gelding. Well fed, well groomed, well behaved, well muscled, trimmed and shod hooves with protective pads under the shoes. Just a fine animal all around. Hugo, his person, seemed to be very proud of him and very fond of him. Most of the animals looked extremely well cared for. I was pleasantly surprised at how well most of them seemed to have been cared for. A couple of people needed to be kicked, especially the one with the horse that had ticks piled up behind his ears. But, I digress. By the way, that’s now 5 countries where I’ve gone horseback riding.
Not only was it not an easy hike, it wasn’t an easy ride. Champion (my horse) reminded me of my favorite horse when I was growing up as far as how rough his ride was. Champion and Pride were both a little straight in the hocks, but they both seemed to enjoy what they did. Even on a smooth horse, though, this would have been a rough ride. It was almost straight up and downhill over rough terrain. There were several wonderful stops to look at the scenery, which was awesome. Several active volcanoes, two currently erupting.
Three active volcanos here: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango
This is Pacaya in the background. That is smoke from the magma and lava mixed with some ash.
Fuego erupting with the moon still in the sky.
I was glad I went ahead and rented a stick (which Hugo carried because he didn’t trust me with it on his Champion – and I don’t blame him). We didn’t go all the way to the calderon, but stopped at the lava fields, just a little bit down the slope. Obviously, the horses didn’t go on the lava field. It was a bit hot. Our awesome, bilingual guide, Roberto, brought marshmallows and had one of the horse people cut some sticks. He picked around in the lava field until we found a good hot spot. He picked out some rocks to make a hole where we could roast marshmallows. He tossed some of the rocks to some of us. The one I got was so hot you could only hold it for a second or two before it started hurting. Roberto said about four or five years ago, they were able to roast hot dogs and chicken. It’s gotten too hot for anything except marshmallows now, though.
At the edge of the lava field with Pacaya behind me.
Awesome guide Roberto roasting marshmallows. It was rather hot where he was, so we mostly stayed close to the edge.
After we finished roasting the marshmallows, we picked our way over to a little tienda set up on the far side of the lava field. There, those of us who only brought snacks and water were able to buy food and drinks. I got a sandwich with some kind of meat on it and an orange for 9 Quetzals (just over a dollar). We picked our way back across the lava field to where the horses were waiting, and went back to the van. When we got back, I still had a few quetzals, so I gave Champion a bunch of lovings and gave Hugo the 20, telling him to get him and Champion some treats because they both worked hard.
Back at the hotel, Bruce had had a good day, hanging out in the room watching TV. He was so glad I was too tired to go exploring Antigua. So, we just hung out in the hotel room until late afternoon, when I started getting hungry. We walked down the street to – Domino’s Pizza. Bruce had been talking about how he could probably bite and chew a soft-crust American style pizza easily, so I told him I had seen a Domino’s just up the street from the hotel. Tasted just like in the States. Since we sampled Domino’s, I didn’t test a Big Mac in Guatemala. I did get an ear of roasted corn from a street vendor. I was looking forward to that sweet roasted corn taste from state fairs in the US. It was dry, and the only taste it had was the lime that she used to rub on the salt. So disappointed!
On the way out, we drove through Guatemala City, where – yes, there is a Walmart, and what is Taco Bell doing down here?? You can get much better tacos on the street!!
And Papa John’s runs an all you can eat special. That’s about $7.50.
Then, we made it to La Florida, the border town. We pulled up to the gate and told the guard we were leaving Guatemala and entering Honduras. He told us to pull into the parking lot on the right and go to the two buildings on the right. So, we went to the building closest to the gate and cancelled the permit for the truck for Guatemala. Then, we went next door and got our passports stamped out of Guatemala. There was a guy in the parking lot changing quetzals for lempira at 7.5. The bank rate this morning was 7.8, so I thought that was fine. I learned to check the exchange rate in case they were going to stiff us like they did exchanging pesos for quetzals.
On the Honduras side, we talked to the guy at the aduanas (customs) about the truck. He said it would be 720 lempira to get the truck permit, and that there was not a bank around. We could take a bus into Copas Ruinas where there was a bank, but the truck had to stay until we got back with the lempira. We only had about 300 lempira after exchanging for the quetzales. So, we went on into immigration to get our passports stamped. The immigration guy ripped us off, and tried to go even further. But he only took us for $2, so I’m not overly concerned. When we came up to the window, he asked for $4 each. I asked how much in lempira (which traded this morning just over 21 to 1 to the dollar), and he said 80 each. So I gave him 200 lempira. He gave me back 10. When I pointed out that I needed more change, he tried to convince me it was a 20. Then, he tried to tell me that it was the right exchange for quetzels. Eventually, he gave me another 10, saying that was right. I told him that no, I needed 20 more. He went running around looking on different shelves, telling me he had no more. I told him to give me back one of the 100s, and I gave him a 50 and a 20 and one of his 10s back, keeping the other one after he reluctantly parted with one of my 100 lempira notes. (Glad my Spanish is improving!) After he gave us back our passports, the stamp said the cost was $3 US, so while he tried to get more, he did take us for 20 lempira each, about a dollar a piece. Believe it or not, Bruce is the one that wants to give this guy the benefit of the doubt that maybe they just haven’t changed the stamp yet.
Not really wanting to hop a bus up the road and back, I asked the guy changing money on the Honduras side if he could change dollars. He was giving 20 to 1 on the dollar, so I took it for just enough to clear the border. We had to make copies of the cancelled permit from Guatemala, my passport, and my driver’s license. We already had several copies of the title to the truck. He needed three copies of each, which you could get made across the street at the tienda. While the guy at the tienda was making copies, we were talking about various sites in Honduras, though he said the Pacific side was yuck. I guess we’re gonna see the yuck side on the way down, though. (My Spanglish is getting pretty good, apparently!) The guy doing our permit was really nice, and we were out of there in no time. He even let me use their office bathroom since the public ones were closed.
So, we’ve made it across the border, but now we’re broke and really need a bank. Copan Ruinas (our next destination) is right up the street, though, and the guy at the aduanas said there was a bank there.
As we’re pulling into town, I saw a hotel, and we decided to stop and see if we could pay by credit card. The owner said she couldn’t take cards, but it was okay. We could go to the bank later. She had a reasonable price for a king room with air, hot water, and wifi, and she tossed in a meal for free, too! In conversation, I mentioned that Bruce had new teeth and was really wanting some mashed potatoes, and the next think I knew, she was fixing them for him. She’s an awesome lady, and her hostel/hotel we’re at is great! She gave us directions to the bank after we put our stuff up. Foolish us! It’s Sunday on a holiday weekend! Not only is the bank closed, but the ATM is empty, too! Amazingly, Zoila said that was okay. We could pay her tomorrow. I had thought maybe Honduras was where I was finally going to meet those cheating Latinas/Latinos I keep being warned about, and I think I did at immigration. The good-heartedness of Zoila more than makes up for it, though. There are jerks all over the world, and he just happened to be one of them. Good thing they don't make up the majority of the people!