A Travellerspoint blog


break for the border

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Thursday 19th September 1985

Ate two breakfasts then caught the 10.30 Batty Bus towards the Guatemalan border at San Ignacio. Then get in a taxi with a big bald middle aged yank who agreed a fare of 10$ !! The cabbie is even more enterprising and changes my travellers cheques at a reasonable rate of 3.3 Quetzales per dollar. No hassle at border. Pass through lovely rolling lush countryside, lots of horses and cows, palm thatched buildings.

At 3 pm a bus comes up from Flores(San Benito) for 4Q. I planned to get off at the El Cruce junction, but change my mind when advised there is nowhere to stay and it is getting late in the day to risk hitch hiking up to Tikal. Appalling bone shaking road and rattly bus with no leg room, but fellow passengers friendly. Bamboo hut villages and free roaming pigs in the villages. Arrive after dark, american friend leaps with relief into the nearest taxi. I walk across the causeway in the warm night serenaded by the frogs. El Itza pension 4.4Q con bank. I have a raging cold and spend the night with hot and cold sweats my nose running all over the pillow.

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last hold out of the Maya

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Friday 20th September 1985

Day of rest, feeling poorly. Meet Gary a dreamy australian always staring out of the window, he speaks good spanish and plays 8 musical instruments.

Flores, the capital of the Peten, a small island town on lake Peten Itza. It was here athat the last of the Mayan royal held out against the spanish, lasting until 1697. Cobbled streets, marimba music, cheeky boys asking for 5 cents to perform a spectacular feat with their spinning tops. Meet magnus from Germany with a reconstructed face. We three seem to be the only gringoes in town. Very quiet and restful.

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the glories of Tikal

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Saturday 21st September 1985
I sling my hammock in Tikal.

I sling my hammock in Tikal.

Bus to Tikal 2Q. The bus driver spends an hour driving around town trying to recruit more passengers. Gary wanders on in another direction. Two Londoners, Mutley and Katie, and Magnus in the company of an older Japanese guy called Michi who has arrived overland through Darien gap. He reports that the Nicaraguan border guards were ignorant and he had to retrace his steps to get a visa.

Numerous soldiers along the road.

Arrive at the site to find an empty camping ground witha few shelters without walls and palm thatch roofs. Sling our hammocks and mosquito nets. Occellated turkeys scratch in the grass. Chris D a marine with a degree in classical literature turns up later. One of my padlocks disappears. a giant rhinoceros beetle marches through camp.

Light a campfire and have hotdogs, tortillas and baked beans. Michi steals a beer and bottle of chilli sauce from one of the cheap comedors just outside the site entrance. A huge hairy tarantula jumps onto Chris' foot, its body is covered in bright red hairs. In the morning we find its burrow.

Camping is free but daily park ticket is 1Q.

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Tikal, triumph of the Mayas

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Sunday 22nd September 1985

Glorious rainforest, flocks of toucans in dipping flight, spider monkeys thrash about in the canopy 150 feet up in the jungle canopy, magnificent ceiba trees sacred to the Maya.

The main plaza has temples I & II in the east and west, a complicated mess of temples to the north and an acropolis in the south. Stelae carved with kings and beautiful glyphs. Recognise 9 Batun, which is the 400 year period during which most of the currently visible ruins were constructed. Underneath the present ruins are about 4 buried structures. The Maya of Tikal traded with Teotihucan. It has taken 30 years to reclaim the currently visible ruins from the jungle. Tikal may extend over 25 sq miles. Their cities were not densely populated but well spread out and semi rural.

Mayan temple looming up through the Peten jungle.

Mayan temple looming up through the Peten jungle.

The finest views of all are from the top of temple IV. You can climb the steep stairs to the base of the roof comb, across the tree tops three other temples can be seen poking up through the jungle canopy which extends like a green sea as far as you can see all around. At sunset they are picked out in orange light. Magic. Find Gary up here and watch night descend in silence from the top of the temple. We walk back by moonlight. It was a treacherous climb down in the dark from root to root down the tree clad pyramid. It is 212 feet to the top of the roof comb. The highest surviving structure from prehispanic times in the New World.

Get stopped by armed guards in the main plaza. I don't have a permit to be here after dark. Gary keeps them entertained with his paperwork which eventually satisfies them. Experiencing the ruins by moonlight is mystical. You can climb temple I, the icon of Tikal, at about 5.30pm after the day guards have gone and before the two armed night guards arrive. Climbing the temples is forbidden by the guards since a tourist slipped in a tragic reproduction of its original purpose and died of his injuries. From the temple on the top of the pyramid you can converse in normal tones with people far below in the plaza. Meet Harry again (Oxaca), left Charles somewhere, they were the literature scholars form Kent.

The lady at the smallest smokiest comedor cooking us a vegetable soup for .75c, a novel experience for her to cook vege and she is eager for the results to be satisfactory. Usually it is pollo pollo or pollo. Except at breakfast when it is eggs.


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catch a thief

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Monday 23rd September 1985

Up at misty dawn again to get lost in the ruins once more. Very few people around and we feel we have the place to ourselves. Yet this is one of the top Mayan sites. Sleep in the afternoon in the comb lintel on the temple of inscriptions. The small museum contains some of the fine examples jade and coloured pottery from the tombs. the finest stuff looks a bit greek, with figures marching round the vessel telling a story. Finely carved bone.

Michi is caught stealing a cassette from the little shop. I go back to camp and search his bags, I find two of my rolls of films, but not my missing padlock or toothbrush. He has the most bizzare stuff, lots of old plastic bags, 50 unused postcards of the same view. A kleptomaniac.
Magnus spends the night on temple IV.

Michi is in disgrace. Pity, because his Japanese songs around the fire were a delight. Fascinating discussion between Chris and Harry all evening, on classical literature. Much talk about the drinking water which smells of bad eggs. Magnus' potassium permanganate seems to clear it.

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Tikal dreaming

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Tuesday 24th September 1985

Another day enjoying the Tikal atmosphere. Exploring the ruins, deciphering the glyphs, swinging in my hammock. I have spent a long time here, a beautiful spot and a good crowd. Missed out on this travellers vibe in Mexico. Everybody says hello etc.


Tikal had played a central part in Mayan life for a thousand years, I spent a few days there trying to capture the faintest whispers of their lost spirit.

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talk of amoebic dysentery

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Wednesday 25th September 1985

Took the lunchtime bus back to Flores. Gary was on the bus too. I can't decide whether to fly on to the capital, or go to Poptun for the cave of inscriptions, or to Copan for the Quetzal reserve? After sharing Gary's peanuts I decide to try and see the quetzal bird whose feathers were more valuable than gold. The journey will involve at least three buses and probably some hitching which might be interesting.

At Flores bus station and there is only an overnight bus to Sebol which I can't face so check into 1.5oQ hotel and spend the afternoon eating and drinking with Gary. he has a great love of India. He spent a year and a half there n one trip, had shigella a couple of times and amoebic dysentery once, dropping down to 49 kg. He was headmaster at an English language school, married a Kiwi, and has been travelling off and on for 7 years. Not sure what happened to the Kiwi. Sensitive and full of dreams. Trying to learn Spainish now.

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rest day

before overnight bus

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Thursday 26th September 1985

R & R
Rest and Recuperation before overnight bus to Sebol on dirt roads...

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hitching through beautiful Guatemalan countryside

Army searches

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Friday 27th September 1985

...crowded all night hard rattling bus ride over dirt roads. Gave up my seat to local lady who looked very mayan with seemingly 8 children under 1. Perch on a can of petrol. Live turkeys in string bags add to the rural ambience. At 4 in the morning all out - again, to be ferried across a river in small boats. Stopped at least 6 times by the army, all out, men line up one side of the bus, women the over, hands up and lean against the bus, frisked and luggage searched. Great interest and suspicion about guide book from the soldiers, who are younger than me.

Nearly miss Sebol as starting to nod off by dawn. And it amounts to nothing, just a fork in the road. A pleasant green and leafy place, a few cane huts and local mayan types. Snooze in a palm leaf shelter before catching a lift from a passing truck.

Stay in 2nd gear all the way to Coban. Its that sort of road. But! what a magnificent place, alpine in its beauty, dense forests and high mountains, simple villages cows and horses. Stop for a shave and a swim in a river. Co-driver rescues my soap dish which had floated away mid shave, Eric and Mick they call themselves.

Fail to get a lift out of Coban in the hour before dark and stay at the Monterrey for 3Q.

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beautiful Alta Verapaz country in 1985

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Saturday 28th September 1985

Change some money at a bank at about 3.6 to the $ and eventually get a bus for Tactic, followed by one to Purulha near the quetzal reserve. Lots of rain, green and lush cloud forest. Walk into the little mountain village in the afternoon. Low lying cloud obscures the mountains and tattered shreds of cumulus drift down the stony high street. Old lady in shop directs me to a posada, 2Q.

Leave bag and walk 4km to biotopo and find Hospidaje at entrance. Its like Tolkein in late autumn, dripping fernery, tumbling brooks, cows grazing in valley pastures, men carrying bundles with forehead straps, women with baskets on their heads, everyone carrying something and I'm not for once!

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trying to glimpse the Quetzal bird

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Sunday 29th September 1985

Get up at dawn and plod back up to the Biotopo. Check into the charming pine chalet Hospidaje, room for 9 but just me for 6Q. Bathroom en suite, meals brought up on a tray.

Wander the quaint leafy trails all morning, was that a quetzal or a parrot? It startled me just staring back. No tail streamers but colours right. Flash of grey/white from its wings as it took off.

Cloud forest, lots of moss and dripping ferns lush creepers and always the sound of water. Sit for hours watching the twittering little insectivorous birds come close. Squirrels too.

Simple meals at the log cabin. Light the log fire and smoke the place out, the eye watering gloom makes the paraffin lamp too dim for reading. Dreadful colic all night. Perhaps 18 large tortillas is more than my digestion should attempt.

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bus station frustration

Guatemala City

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Monday 30th September 1985

Catch a passing bus to Guatemal City 2.5Q Arrive at lunch time a bit lost in time and think it is Sunday. Waste the day expecting a bus to turn up at closed down office. The bus station around the market is spread over many muddy streets and quite impossible to work out. Give up and go to bed.

Posted by 1985 trip 03:32 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

hippy lake

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Tuesday 1st October 1985

Find Rebulos bus station no problem this morning after yesterdays frustrations and catch the 10am bus to Panajachel. beautiful descent from Solozia to the lakeside. Marvellous.

Panajachel hip and trendy village with many foreigners and much ropa tipica. Catch an afternoon boat across the lake to SanPedro where alittle girl shows me to Pension Chuasinahi, 1.5Q con ropa came and demand 10 centavos for her services. Its not a very attatractive place on the lake shore, all breeze block and crowded out with noisy Italians gone hippy in local costume, el tipico.

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back strap weaving

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Wednesday 2nd October 1985

Wash day and domestic chores. Pensione supervised by a fussy old man. Apparently its owned by a 'colonel'. Persistent rude girls aggressively hawk oranges and tamales off my balcony.

Chris, a dour Canadian, shows me to Senorita Rosa Gonzalez and I agree to a few days back strap loom weaving lessons for 50 cents a day materials extra - about 1.5Q. Later that day I start by threading up and sizing the weft with corn starch.

Sergio, Rosa's husband, is tying a fishing net. Their three boys Chester, Orbe, and Louis make tipica knotted bracelets. They eat tortillas and frijoles morning noon and night. The little three year old girl paddles about trying to keep her skirt up but her fat tum defeats her.

Bisteck con arroz con papas fritas 75 cents.

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colourful costumes

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Thursday 3rd October 1985

San Pedro is authentically grubby, roughly cobbled streets are steep and narrow and full of farmyard smells. Brightly costumed locals always carrying something, ladies do it on their heads, men on their backs. The ladies wear a long loop of cloth which is wrapped around as a skirt but without getting into the loop, different dressing technique to asia. The men wear calf length home woven white trousers with a black dash running through the weave, other villages will have a different pattern. Rosa makes the San Pedro trouser fabric. Two woven lengths are needed for a pair of trousers at 5Q each, materials cost her 2Q and it takes her about a day and half to weave 2 lengths, in between cooking and childcare. The bottom half of the trousers are brightly embroidered with stylised animals. The women's tops are known as huipiles and are elaborately embroidered. Men's shirts are from similar material to the skirts. You can imagine how colourful the villages look on market day. The houses seem to have piped water but the washing water is chucked into the street. Many flies. Weave all day, painfully slow compared with Rosa.

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