Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Tikal, Poptun, Chichicastanenga, Panajchel, Antigua

By now it is the 15th of October and we have crossed another border into Guatemala. Our first stop was the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The most spectacular part of this was walking into the collection of temples and climbing to the top of Temple IV. From there you not only see the most spectacular view of the jungle canopy, for miles and miles as far as the eye can see but this is also a famous sight from one of the Star Wars movies. The one which opens with something flying over a treetop canopy and you can see three stone temples peeping up through the top of the canopy. Quite spectacular to see it in the flesh and to know it is real and not computer generated. It was beautiful.

Next stop was Finka (Poptun). Boy did I have fun here. Finca Ixobel was a kind of Eco hippie place where you arrive, settle in and then everything you have from food to drink and tours you write down in a book. They have a trust system. Dinner is a fantastic buffet which is a communal meal. Here you get to meet new people from around the world, we got talking to some Russianīs, and it was a true travellers experience. But what was really great was that I got to stay in my very own tree house. A very simple construction, with a rickety bed, a mosquito net, windows that look like I had made then (wooden, no glass). But it was magical. I felt like a princess in a tour and in the morning I opened my windows, lay in bed and stared out at the tops of the trees, watching birds, listening to frogs, it had rained so that made everything feel like it was draped in a cloak of dew.

Whilst there Andrew, Kevin and I took a guided walk into the rain forest. I have never walked in such heavy rain but it was humid so we didnīt mind. It made walking up and down over the steep rocky very strenuous as the water was gushing down at a great force. So, a two hour hike into the jungle and then to the mouth of a cave. Into which we swam. Our guide, who was incredible, carried 5 lit candles all the way through, above his head so even when we were up to our necks in water the candles didnīt go out.

This was one of the most physical activities I have ever done. We were in shorts and t-shirts and walking boots, sometimes stumbling over the uneven cave surface below, sometimes swimming. We went deep into the cave over small waterfalls and once we were nearly at the end a room opened up into a high ceilinged cave where there was a waterfall about 30ft high. The only way to get further on into the cave was to jump off the waterfall into the pool below. In the dark. Our guide shone his candles down so that we could sort of judge where we had to jump, and then he disappeared off the edge. The only thing to do was go for it and hope that we landed in the right spot. The deepest part of the pool. Well, thankfully I did, but boy was it exhilarating. I hit the bottom of the pool with my boots and then started to swim up, just when I thought I was at the top I realised I have further to go. I surfaced, took the biggest gulp of air I have ever taken in my life, other than maybe when I was born, and screamed my heart out. I was laughing the others were laughing, it was great. Then I dragged myself through the fast running water and climbed out.

The final challenge, which I chickened out on was to swim underneath the cave into another cave. This meant going under and pulling yourself along under the rock ceiling until you came out the other side. The boys went ahead and I stayed in the inner cave with the candles, waiting for them. I squatted on a rock with water rushing around me and nervously watched them disappear one by one. I saw the flashlight go black and knew they were under there. My heart was beating so fast as I sat in the cave, bats flying around my head, water everywhere and just me. I obviously began to imagine all sorts of horrible things like what if they didnīt come back and then after what seemed like an hour but was only about 10 minutes I saw the glow from the guides flashlight slowly appear from under the water. They were back, they were scared but they had the best time. Then another three hours back to Finka through the rain, the jungle, water and mud up to our shins. I was exhausted!

We then drove up into the highlands to Chichicastanenga. A town famous for its market. And I can see now. The locals were very strong looking Indians in traditional dress. I have never seem such a plethora of colour and have previously described this place as National Geographic. Exactly what you would expect to see on the pages.

The other thing that hit me other than the colour of the fabrics, dress, blankets, fruit etc. is the abundance of smiles. These people lead incredibly basic lives, living in mud but they look so colourful and are so happy. They are happy to see us, happy to go about their business and happy to be alive. I have never seen that on anyoneīs face before. It was noisy and fun. Baskets of live chickens being traded on the side of the road and one woman even had a pig which she needed to transport onto a bus. The solution they came up with was to put the squealing pig into a sack and tie it up. Then the sack was hauled onto the roof of the bus and tied to the railings. Another heavy sack was shoved up against it to wedge it in tight on the roof and then the bus drove off with the screaming pig wriggling about on top. We stood their jaws dropped as we watched.

Where next? Panajacel and Lake Atitlan. Huge... what can I say? Some people went on a boat trip but Andrew and I sat in a restaurant overlooking the lake and stared at the two volcanoes that guard the lake. Sunset was incredible... pinky orange sky, still glass like lake and the black silhouette of the volcanoes.

Then into Antigua, which used to be the capital of Antigua, another beautiful colonial town. A main plaza, a cathedral, cafes and restaurants dotted around and the beautiful hotel with the cashew nut eating girl. Here we had a lazy three days where we ate and drank and took in some architecture. Ooh, and we saw a movie. A great film called Frida (I think it has just been released in the UK). Starring Salma Hayek, it was about a very strong Mexican woman who was an artist in the 1930īs. She was involved with Starlin, had a terrible life after an accident when she was young but it was amazing to watch as we had just seen a face all over books and posters as we have travelled through Mexico. It made it feel so much more real. Besides, I would have like the movie anyway for the cinematography, the style, the colours, the way the merged paintings into real life.

I am rambling. Maybe some of you will watch it, itīs a very powerful film and I canīt wait to see it when I get home. What made it better is that we watched it on a television in a small room with leather sofas lined up, a very simple idea. You need a minimum of two people and you can sit in the room and watch, in the middle of Guatemala. I also watched High Fidelity (Nick Hornby) that day which was very funny. So we had a real lazy Sunday, movie day.

In our hotel in Antigua (Guatemala) there was a little girl, about five or six, who was always playing around in the courtyard and she had taken to coming into our room for cashew nuts. She would come bounding in and stand in front of us, dark skin, brown eyes staring hopefully at us, dark curly hair falling down her back and a little pink floppy hat on her head. She would stare at us deadly serious with her hands out while we giggled and gave her more nuts. Then she would run to the door, turn and wave and she would be gone... until a few minutes later when she would be back to repeat the whole thing again. Cute as!
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