Guatemala: Hurricane Earl and Tikal

Published: August 6th 2016
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Hurricane Selfie!Hurricane Selfie!Hurricane Selfie!

Hurricane Earl, Flores
Dear All

Saludos! Greetings from air-conditioned luxury! Post-Hurricane Earl, I survived – lol! Well, there was no kind of doubt that I wouldn’t survive it, but it was an experience of a lifetime, definitely something to tick off my travel list, and deep down, I must admit, I was actually kind of hoping there’d be a hurricane while I was here (it is currently hurricane season in the Caribbean), just to see what one is like. Definitely an experience, and I will relate here, as well as why I’m so pleased to be enjoying air-conditioned luxury right now.

So last off, I believe I wrote from deep in the depths of the Guatemalan jungle, down the Rio Dulce, towards the Caribbean coast around Livingston – there was no WiFi connection for my last night in the Finca Tatin, so I uploaded my blog entry once I arrived in Flores. I took a boat back up the beautiful Rio Dulce, back to Rio Dulce town, to await my next connection to Flores, the main town of the Northern Guatemalan region of El Peten, and quite a tourist destination too, it has its own international airport. The bus was supposed to arrive at 10.30am – I arrived in the bus office at 9.50am, so thought it’d only be a 40 minute wait. The bus eventually arrived at 11.40am, so it was in fact a near two hour wait in a hot and dusty bus company office on the side of the main road connecting southern Guatemala to the north – noisy, and not nice. The bus arrived, and I was fortunate to get a seat, right at the back, where the air-conditioning works the least well – fortunate, as there were about eight people or standing for around half the journey. Despite all this, the journey actually went well, and the bus soon started emptying out after halfway. Four hours later we’d arrived in the local town of Santa Elena, the twin-sister town to the beautiful tourist town of Flores.

Flores is actually situated on a tiny island, very roughly square in shape, and about 300m by 300m, sitting just off the southern edge of the large Lake Peten Itza, in the middle of the north Guatemalan jungle. It is connected by a causeway to its sister town of Santa Elena. Santa Elena is the local Guatemalan town, whilst Flores
Humming BirdHumming BirdHumming Bird

La Casa de Don David
remains an absolutely exquisite little tourist destination, much more reminiscent of a cute little Mediterranean town on the Amalfi Coast or the Island of Capri. I caught a tuk-tuk from Santa Elena across the causeway, to a lovely little boutique hotel called the Casa Amelia, on the lovely little island of Flores. I only had one night to spend there, and I actually wished it was more – it was an absolute delight to walk around that evening, exploring its cobble-stoned streets, lined with lovely little restaurants, bars and boutiques. There was even a telephone mast spreading out at least ten different wires, each of them absolutely covered with migrating swallows, which had just arrived for their annual migration in August apparently. I’m not sure where they come from, but they were there in their thousands, making a huge racket, and it was a real spectacle to see – I just made sure I didn’t stand directly underneath them…! There were quite a few splats whilst I was gazing at them.

But I guess what will always remain in my memory now, from the island of Flores, is my experience of Hurricane Earl passing over that night, two nights ago. Various travellers had been talking about whether the tropical storm Earl would become a hurrican at the Finca Tatin, and we were all discussing where the best place to be would be for when it made landfall. It was at that time heading west along the northern coast of Honduras, causing havoc there, after already causing devastation on the island of Hispaniola. It was progressing at a measly 14mph – I didn’t realise they travelled that slowly. The best we could find out, without Internet connection that night, but actually having an American lady from Colorado who works for the US Meteorological Institute finding out from colleagues back home, that it was due to make landfall in Belize the following night, and then cross the Yucatan peninsula over Northern Guatemala and Southern Mexico – I was heading right for the former the very next day, and although I wasn’t going to change my plans, I did feel a bit ominous about going into the area.

So having explored lovely Flores that evening, and then learning in actual fact that it was subsequently upgraded to a hurricane, I was ready to hunker down for the night – the hurricane was due to pass over the area sometime in the early hours of the following morning. The skies were extremely threatening – huge formations of dark, dark clouds. People say it arrived about 2am, but I was only woken up by it at 4am. The power switched off, turning off my boutique hotel air-conditioning, ceiling fan and hot water, and shortly after the water itself switched off. I climbed up one more storey in the hotel to take a peak from its rooftop, and it was seriously blowing a hurricane out there! The rain was heavy, and almost horizontal, so it blew right into your face. But it was the wind which was incredible, and I have never experienced anything like it. Back home I’ve experienced winds that have gusted up to 50mph, but this wind was a constant and sustained 50mph – this I estimated at the time, and found out that I was actually correct when checking the news the next day. It sustained this speed for around 10 hours in total. What I found fascinating was noticing the changes as the hurricane past over. In Flores, we were just south of the eye of the hurricane – and indeed, the sustained winds at first came from the west – towards the latter part of the morning, they slowly made their way to coming from the south. At around 11am, the winds stopped, pretty quickly and dramatically, but the rain persisted until around 2pm, petering out steadily. I found this progression of the hurricane absolutely fascinating. I stayed up there for a good ten minutes or so, before returning to bed and to sleep as best as I could, with no air-conditioning or fan, and the tremendous noise of the rain and wind outside. I awoke again at 6am when there was daylight, and returned to the rooftop, where it was pretty much exactly the same, if not even stronger – took a few amazing videos and photos whilst up there. The palm trees on the street below were exactly as I’d seen them before on news reports on hurricanes – blowing constantly in the same direction, the fronds stretched to their limit in just one direction. It was very interesting to see, as I’ll mention more below, that of all the trees I saw later that were uprooted, not one was a palm tree – fascinating to see that they’re designed for such extreme weather.

After my second visit to the rooftop, I returned to some fitty sleep again until around 9am, when I made my way down to breakfast. The power was completely off still, although the water had fortunately returned. The hotel staff were as lovely and as helpful as ever, still preparing breakfast for their guests, despite there being no power. I had a shuttle bus booked for 12pm, to take me to my next destination, where I’m writing this one from: the small village of El Remate, situated on the beautiful eastern edge of Lake Peten Itza, and an alternative tourist base for the region: much more tranquil and natural here. However, upon ringing the travel agency to confirm whether the shuttle was going ahead, I was informed that it had been cancelled – it was in fact a shuttle that was going on to Tikal, after El Remate, which no-one in their right minds would be visiting under such conditions, and which in fact was closed yesterday anyway due to the weather (it had already been closed the previous two days as the workers were on strike, for some reason – this has since been sorted, and I was actually quite lucky to be able to visit today!) Instead, I booked a taxi for 200 Quetzales (about £20) which drove me the 30km or so to El Remate. It came around 11.30am, and the journey was just incredible. By this time, the wind had stopped, but it was still raining fairly heavily. We passed through Flores and then Santa Elena, and I noticed that a number of corrugated tin rooftops had been severely damaged, whilst many awnings and billboards had also been blown down. As the road entered more rural areas though, the road was completely strewn in places with uprooted trees, some of which blocked the road, but fortunately none of them completely. In places where there were slopes up the side of the road, there were landslides, mudslides and rocks, some of them quite large boulders, having fallen onto the road. Some of the fields were completely flooded, whilst local storm drains were to tipping point in many places, often breaching their banks and flowing straight out onto the road. It was an awesome sight, all the way to El Remate, and I took a number of pictures, some of them uploaded here. By the time we arrived at my hotel, the fantastic Casa de Don David, the rain had petered out into a drizzle, and the weather was starting to return to normal again. It seemed, however, that El Remate had suffered even worse than Flores – I guess it’s more rural and thus has more trees. The streets were also covered with uprooted trees, fallen and broken branches, and so much debris. The poor Casa de Don David, famed for its beautiful tree-lined gardens, also suffered greatly. Apparently the roof had sprung a major leak, and had flooded the kitchen area. I counted that four of the trees in the garden had been uprooted – one of them falling right next to the room I’m currently staying in. The lovely lawn area was flooded, and tree and branch debris was everywhere. It must have been some night for the people here too. In fact the owner, Don David, an older gentleman from Florida who’s lived here for 41 years, told me it was the worst storm he’d ever seen since he’d been living here. Indeed, the locals tell me that it is never really windy around here,
Me, "I Love Peten"Me, "I Love Peten"Me, "I Love Peten"

Flores is in the Northern Guatemalan region of El Peten
and the poor cleaning lady who cleans my room here was awake all night as she was so scared – scared of the wind, but also of a tree falling down and hitting her house. I haven’t really been able to check the news, due to there being no WiFi connection currently, but I’m sure this must have happened in some places.

Speaking of no WiFi connection, this is still the case – and I have been fortunately able to log on a couple of times using the hotel’s emergency Internet connection, which was working yesterday, but wasn’t for most of today. However, and I’m extremely thankful for this, the electricity has just been switched back on again – there was a team of electricians outside the hotel just two hours ago, and within minutes, the hotel (and I) celebrated the return of electricity. Since my arrival, it had been using the hotel’s emergency generator, giving light only between 6pm and 9pm in the evening: no air-conditioning, no hot water, and the use of candles after 9pm. It is amazing how much we come to depend on these things, as although the electricity has actually been restored really quite fast (only the following day), I found these last two days to be a bit tricky without it. It was a blessing indeed to switch on my air-conditioning, and now be writing this, as mentioned, in air-conditioned, luxurious bliss. It was air-conditioning I was looking forward to the most, after spending four days in the jungle with only a fan to keep me cool – and how amazing it feels to have this now!

Indeed, whilst I’ve been amazed at the powerful forces of nature during this experience, I am also equally amazed with how quickly the local people have dealt with the situation. The staff here in the hotel, within a matter of hours of my arrival, had chainsawed through the fallen trees and cleared them, as well as the slew of debris, branches and leaves originally covering the garden. I went for a walk in the village yesterday just after arriving, which was also strewn with uprooted trees and things – today almost everything has been cleared. Driving to Tikal this morning, there were a number of precarious road cautions, where we were only just able to squeeze past fallen trees, but upon the return journey only 5 hours later, it had all been cleared away. Many of the workers I saw at Tikal early today were also busy chainsawing up the fallen trees, and clearing them away.

So wow – what an experience! I’m actually quite glad I’ve experienced it. I’ve taught about hurricanes many times in my Geography classes (my pre-Religious Education days), it is certainly something being able to experience this. I remember teaching that whilst the primary effects of natural disasters are quite bad, it is often the secondary effects that are much worse: no electricity, no water, transport and communication cut off. I certainly felt this for myself. There was a short time of about two hours early yesterday morning when I was actually quite worried; not that the rain and the wind would affect me, but when the electricity and the water cut off, I started wondering whether I should go out to the shop and stock up with water, before other people decide to do the same. Fortunately though, it didn’t come to this, but I could definitely see how this can quickly happen after a natural disaster. I also saw the problems with both transportation and communication being
Hurricane Selfie!Hurricane Selfie!Hurricane Selfie!

Hurricane Earl, Flores
affected. I don’t even know how things are in Belize, let alone the rest of Northern Guatemala, as I’ve not had access to the Internet or any form of news here – neither will anyone have been, as there’s been no electricity until now, and not many locals have emergency generators like this hotel. It seemed that telephone communications were also out yesterday, as I tried several times to phone the travel agency with whom I’d booked my trip today to Tikal, to find out whether it was still going ahead. It wasn’t possible to get through on any of their four different numbers printed on my ticket. I was able to get through this morning though, so perhaps the telephone service was also cut off, and has now been restored.

But my goodness, what an experience! Definitely one to tick off the travel experience list.

I will just write about my day today, visiting local Tikal, and then mention my next plans, before I wrap this one up – I realise it’s already rather long…!

So this morning, after successfully getting through to the travel agency, I found out that my shuttle bus to and back from Tikal was still going ahead. So around 9am it picked me up, and drove me, along with 10 other tourists like myself, the 30km north, through the jungle, and through more tree- and debris-strewn roads, to the absolutely stunning site of Tikal.

Tikal was one of the major lowland Maya centres. It was originally founded in the early Mayan period, around 700BC, but properly flourished during what’s known as the Classic Maya period, between AD 250 and 900. This was when the Mayans reached the pinnacle period of their civilisation, and although earlier than the Aztecs, which were at their height during the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century, is said to have been more developed and sophisticated than the Aztecs. Whilst the Aztecs were consistently preoccupied with warfare, military control, and human sacrifice, the Mayans had an arguably more advanced civilisation, developing its cultural, religious, astrological and mathematical aspects further. The Mayan calendar is particularly fascinating, and although many in the West believed that when it was due to end on 21st December 2012, this would in fact be the end of the world. Most Mayans, it seems, believe this is nonsense – it is correct that it was the end of the calendar, but what happens is a new age, a new calendar begins when one ends. We have currently just started the age of Aquarius, apparently. It does seem that with all that has been going on in the world recently: Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in particular, that we are entering a new age – things are changing, and they are changing fast – perhaps the Mayans were right…?!

Anyway, I digress – Tikal was one of the major lowland Mayan states – there were several throughout this region, often at war with each other, though sometimes forming alliances, sometimes with outsiders. Tikal is even said to have formed an alliance with Teotihuacan, way back near Mexico City. Tikal was the political and religious centre of the Tikal state. What is fascinating about the Mayans is that their cities were not so much dwelling places for its inhabitants, although it is believed that the population of Tikal grew to around 100,000 by the middle of the 6th century, in fact most of the people continued to live rural and agricultural lives. The great centres such as Tikal performed mainly a political and religious duty, as well as acting as a market hub for the local agriculturalists to buy, sell and trade their goods. Pyramids were built, often upon the tombs of former kings and leaders, and although human sacrifices were carried out, they were certainly not as extreme in number as those performed by the Aztecs. Tikal today is a huge area, dotted with numerous pyramids, temples and various other remains of buildings and structures. What makes a visit to Tikal so special, and indeed it was with me, was the jungly setting it finds itself in. The main pyramids (actually called “temples”), Templos I to VI, are very much spread out, with up to one kilometre of walking between them. The Mayans themselves built limestone causeways, or roads, between their pyramids and temples, and you can still walk along these today. Indeed, between pyramids, you walk right through the jungle, surrounded by a cacophony of bird sounds and insect chirps, and often happen upon an animal or bird or two. I saw two small families of spider monkeys, an agouti and several birds, though I sadly didn’t see a toucan, which are said to inhabit these parts.

I spent a very happy, but extremely sweaty (35 degrees today, not much cloud cover), five hours at the site, walking the distances between the pyramids, and climbing three of them – the three that you are allowed to climb. The Grand Plaza was a spectacle, bordered on two sides by (Pyramid) Templos I and II, and the many-templed North Acropolis. There were a couple of “small” pyramids in the North Acropolis which you were allowed to climb via their front steps, and this was a great experience, if a bit scary coming down. You could also climb the front steps of the main pyramid in the area called “Mundo Perdido”, or “Lost World”, about 32m high. Two other pyramids, Templo II and Templo IV, you could also climb, but via a wooden staircase going up the rear (incidentally, the pyramids in Mayan times also had wooden staircases up the back, as well as the stone ones on the front – this was where the human sacrifices had to climb, before their headless bodies were thrown down the pyramid steps at the front after they had had their hearts torn out…). Now I need to watch this again when I get home, but apparently one of the Star Wars films has a short clip taken from the top of Templo IV – I can see why. The view from the top of this pyramid was other-worldly – at 65m high, it is the tallest pyramid of the complex, and from its top you gaze out over the entire jungle canopy of the region, with five of the other pyramids poking out above the tree tops in the distance – quite spectacular, and well worth the climb.

As mentioned though, it was a fantastic day and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, but it was achingly hot. Fortunately, as soon as I had arrived back at the car park and got into the shuttle for the return journey, there was a huge clap of thunder and the heavens opened – what timing! It also cooled down the temperature for the return journey, which went faster due to the afore-mentioned amazingness of the local people clearing away the fallen trees and debris. And returning back to my hotel, just in time for the electricity to come back on again, was just sheer bliss. One hot shower, and a flick of the switch of the air-conditioning, I am back to having a cold room and a hot shower (not the other way round…!).

I will shortly see if the WiFi connection is working again, to hopefully upload this blog entry. If not, hopefully the emergency Internet connection will allow me to do it. If not, I may have to upload this from Belize.

So speaking of which, Belize is my next destination tomorrow. My plan is to take a shuttle bus, which I’ve already booked, from this hotel, across the border to the east, and onto Belize City. I’d like to make Belize City my base for three nights, whilst exploring a few places of interest around the surrounding Belize District. I really am not too sure of the situation in Belize though, so am hoping all is well – I have emailed my hotel that I’ve booked there, and also tried to ring them this afternoon, to confirm my booking – no answer, so I’m just assuming they’re just not connected, rather than not open, after the hurricane. In actual fact, the second hotel which I’d booked, on the island of Caye Caulker, emailed me today to say they’re going to have to cancel my reservation as they have been seriously affected by the hurricane – no electricity or water for at least the next few days. This is quite sad, for them as well as myself, and maybe a precursor as to what I may find in Belize. I’m really not sure. I’m not overly concerned though, as I’m happy to extend my budget and splash out a bit more for a hotel room if need be – there must still be some tourists left in Belize, and as such, there must still be places to accommodate them. As with Northern Guatemala, I have a feeling that the people there will want to continue as normal, and I do think it would be better to still visit: they’ll need tourism to bring in the money still. I also still need to get back to Mexico and its Yucatan region, as that’s where I’m flying home from. So whatever the situation may be, I still need to go to Belize tomorrow.

I guess I will be able to update more on this in my next entry!

So, in the meantime, wishing everyone all the best, y mando mis ultimos saludos desde este fantastico pais de Guatemala. Thank you Guatemala, you have made me feel most welcome and I have enjoyed myself very much in this stunning country!


Additional photos below
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Hurricane Earl FalloutHurricane Earl Fallout
Hurricane Earl Fallout

This tree was uprooted right outside my room in El Remate, the window is there in the background, on the Ground Floor
Hurricane Earl FalloutHurricane Earl Fallout
Hurricane Earl Fallout

La Casa de Don David, El Remate
Hurricane Earl FalloutHurricane Earl Fallout
Hurricane Earl Fallout

La Casa de Don David, El Remate
Hurricane Earl FalloutHurricane Earl Fallout
Hurricane Earl Fallout

La Casa de Don David, El Remate
Unknown WaderUnknown Wader
Unknown Wader

Lago de Peten Itza
K'At: My Mayan 'Nahual'K'At: My Mayan 'Nahual'
K'At: My Mayan 'Nahual'

Animal Protector: Spider

7th August 2016

Blue skies...
Despite recent hurricane weather, it's nice that you had blue skies for your visit to Tikal. No toucan, but you saw an agouti! :)
7th August 2016

Blue Skies
Indeed - the difference in weather from the day before was just amazing! The good old agouti :)
7th August 2016

Surviving Earl
Glad all went well. Storms are so unpredictable and yes they generally move very slow. I can read your love of Guatemala in your blogs. So glad the hotel help were not concerned and were busy preparing breakfast. Just another day. Take care and keep these wonderful blogs coming.
7th August 2016

Aw, thanks very much! You guys take care too :)

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