Antigua, Bananas, and Collectivos

Trip Start Jul 27, 2004
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Saturday, October 16, 2004

We left El Remate early(ish) on Monday morning and caught a collectivo to Santa Elena (this was the first of 5 collectivos we caught that day)... At Santa Elena we found another collectivo going to Poptun (we thought it may be an interesting place to see on the way so we boarded the collectivo). I don't think Paul and I explored the town of Poptun properly as we didn't see much that interested us so after a chicken rice and salad lunch we set off towards Rio Dulce. The countryside in Guatemala is very pretty and with it being the rainy season the land is lush green. 3 collectivos later we arrived in the town of Rio Dulce set near the lake (Lago de Izabel) and next to the river (Rio Dulce). The view when we walked across the bridge to find some accommodation was lovely - you could see a castle, the wide river and the riverbanks were 'tropical' green, there were also some fine boats in the marina (the people that own them must have a lot of money). We had a nice room which was about 4pound50 a night between us. Didn't really do much in Rio Dulce as I had 'Guatemalan tum' and spent a day lying in the room with stomach cramps and several visits to the loo - Paul managed to keep occupied by reading, eating and relaxing...
Wednesday was great as I felt so much better and we took a boat ride down the river (Rio Dulce) from Rio Dulce to Livingston (on the Carribbean Coast). The boat ride was good, along with the stunning scenery (lush green forests on the hillsides and occasional wooden houses with smoke from their fires) we also saw Fishermen in their tiny, narrow wooden canoes throwing out their nets. We arrived in Livingston late morning and were greeted by Black Guatemalans who are called Garifunas. The town has quite a caribbean influence and would be a good place to chill. The grilled fish and ceviche that we had for lunch in Livingston were nice and we got chatting to a guy called Phillip who was 52 and was from Livingston. We had a look at the 'beach' which is really a thin strip of muddy looking sand but the view on the horizon was good as you could see both Belize and the Islands in Honduras. It would have been good to see the atmosphere at night but we decided to carry on on our journey so we caught the ferry down the coast to Puerto Barrios, from Puerto Barrios we then caught a local bus to Morales and from Morales a collectivo onto Quirigua. Although our time in Quirigua was short we had a great time there. Wednesday night's football match was very important for the Guatemalans because if they won the match they would qualify for the World Cup in Germany (Guatemala has never qualified for the world cup ever). Quirigua is quite a small village but they had managed to set up a large screen and set out chairs in a hall so that the people could all watch the game together. Paul and I got a few beers and joined the tense crowd and it was great to be able to celebrate with them on their victory and qualification for the world cup.
Thursday morning was an early start as we wanted to see the Mayan ruins of Quirigua which are about 5km walk from the village. The ruins are a bit like very tall gravestones with Mayan inscriptions and carvings on them. These are called Stelae. They also had things called Zoomorphs which were large and round with carvings and inscriptions on them. We saw the tallest Maya Stela known which was 8m high and weighed 60,000kg. The park the ruins were set in was lovely too and very well maintained so it was pretty to walk around. On our way to the ruins we wlaked through the banana plantations which were interesting to see - Blue bags covered the hanging bananas and there was a kind of hanging track in the fields from which hung a motorised 'train' that was used to 'collect' the bananas... There's a lot to discover about bananas (lol)!!!! After some indecisiveness and no ferry (just an expensive boat) to take us across Lago Izabel we set off on the road to Antigua which is where we are now. The bus to Guatemala city was comfortable but the chicken bus from Guatemala City to Antigua was not so comfortable as you were squashed in 3 to a benchseat and people were still boarding the bus - I don't really know how we all fitted on but a friendly lady started chatting to me (my Spanish is starting to improve and I managed to have 3 conversations on the various buses we were on today - Paul's is ok but Spanish school will help...) and the music on the radio was good (it was all the tunes that had just come out when we left England) so Paul and I had a sing along and enjoyed the ride. We arrived lateish into Antigua but managed to find somewhere nice to stay and get some yummy food - we tried 'Pupusas' tonight which are tortillas made with cheese in the centre of them (some of which oozes out when its cooked on the griddle) then you can have them with Guacamole, Salad and Salsa - about 40p each.... (I'm getting hungry now).
We've had a look around some of the buildings in Antigua today which has been good - the town still has quite a lot of colonial buildings from Spanish rule - some are intact, some are in partial ruin due to a lot of Earthquakes in the area. The best place we went to today was Iglesia San Francisco which was mainly ruins and there was a museum dedicated to Hermano Pedro who came to Antigua in the 17th century and founded a hospital for the poor - his casket is there and people still pray there fervently, it looked like he was a very kind hearted and respected man.
Later during our weekend in Antigua we visited 2 small villages, both of which were on the side of Volcan Agua - all the children were wearing brightly coloured local Guatemalan dress and 2 girls were over the moon when we gave them a banana each - they were very cute!! We relaxed quite a lot in Antigua and spent some time watching premiership football nice to see Manchester City beat Chelsea. We also saw quite a number of churches which were partly in ruins but had been restored inside. Antigua is a very religious place and apparently Easter week is the best time to come as it is ´Semana Santa´ with parades etc.
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