Central America - Guatemala


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Published: March 1st 2017
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I arrived at Arcas in Peten, Guatemala after a long journey in taxi, colectivo and lancha (small boat). Arcas is a rehabilitation centre in the jungle for animals and birds. Some have come in as injured and others have been confiscated by the government from illegal trafficking. I stayed as a volunteer for two weeks and looked after parrots, toucans, baby crocodiles, turtles, a falcon and a macaw who kept trying to escape! Other animals at the centre included monkeys (spider and howler), racoons, coatimundis, grey wolf, puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarmundi, margay (small wild cat), agouti, peccari (wild boar), otter, stork, owls and an eagle. Looking after means feeding and lots of cleaning! The aim of the centre is to rehabilitate and release the animals and birds where possible so we were not allowed to touch or talk to them. Animals and birds which have come from captivity go through a rehabilitation process so that they can re-adapt to living in the wild. The birds I looked after were such characters and very curious. They landed on my head, pecked at me, the broom, hosepipe or anything they could really! They particularly liked fiddling with the latches of cages and there was one very clever macaw who managed to open his cage many times, opening latches which even a monkey couldn´t figure out. We called his cage "el carcel" meaning the jail as it was like Fort Knox! Luckily he was in a smaller cage within a larger one so couldn´t escape completely and he came back when the food arrived. He was in a section called recuperation for those needing extra attention after being unwell or not able to get on with other birds from their cage. Feeding started at 6.30am so it was an early start but luckily we finished by 3pm! We generally went to bed at 9pm although we did have a night out in the nearest town called Flores and came back at 2am so the next day we were a bit the worse for wear! Other tasks included taking the rubbish up to compost, carrying fruit crates, cleaning other cages, fishing in the lake and gutting fish (for the stork and otter). We also had a bonfire one night and toasted marshmallows and chocolate bananas. Benny and Gerardo who worked at Arcas could play guitar so we had music too. I ended up creating a marshmallow dance while toasting marshmallows! On one free afternoon we got a lancha to a small beach on the lake and went swimming. We also witnessed a crocodile being moved to a new enclosure and a monkey being released into the wild. Unfortunately one of the parrots I looked after was ill and passed away so that was quite upsetting. I was fortunate enough to see new life though too as twin peccari babies and fawn were born whilst I was there.

I was sad to leave Arcas as I´d made friends there but afterwards I took a tour to Tikal which was an amazing Mayan site. It reminded me of the children´s program "Mysterious cities of gold". On the way back the driver dropped me off in El Remate on the other side of Lake Peten. I stayed at a ranch there for two nights. They had lots of lovely horses and I had a ride around the corral on my first morning. I also met Ellen who used to be a professional equestrian rider. This part of the lake had beautifully clear water and I had a pier all to myself to go swimming with the fishes.

I returned to Flores and took a nightbus and two shuttle buses to get to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. The journey took about 14 hours in total so I felt a bit like a zombie the next day when I walked around the local market. However I managed to get some ceviche and corn on the cob from street stalls, go to the museum showing a recent archaeological find of an underwater mayan city called Samabaj and look at old photos at the cultural centre. In the early evening I found a special haven for me which was "Dina´s Chocolates". I introduced myself to the owner as she had a name like mine and a chocolate shop! We had a long chat over a cup of traditional mayan hot chocolate with chile. I met her husband and she also showed me pictures of her son. Her life reminded me a little of the film "Chocolat" but minus Johnny Depp! Although I´d had no sleep the night before I joined her that evening for a bachata dance class. The rest of my days there were spent exploring the other villages on the lake by lancha. Sometimes the lake was quite choppy and it was a bit of a rough ride! The first village I went to was Santiago de Atitlan and I met Jason from USA on the boat. We walked around the market, tried the local produce and it was quite a nice place to chill out. The next day I went to two villages near each other. The first was Santa Cruz which was a village halfway up the mountain so I took a tuk tuk there. They had quite funky tuk tuks including a few with a batman shaped window! I went to the church and then to a co-operative textile shop and cafe with amazing views of the lake. I had a nice carrot cake with coffee there and then had lunch at a place with a pretty balcony filled with flowers. The second village was San Marco which was inhabited by hippies as well as locals. I met a mother and son from Canada on the boat over and I taught Liam some Spanish chat up lines so he could talk to some of the Guatemalan girls! The following day I tried to get to Solola but there was a bus strike and road block so I got the boat to another village on the lake called San Pedro. I then took a tuk tuk from there to get to San Juan. We came across roadworks but my tuk tuk driver Rafael was happy to stop and chat for half an hour and didn´t charge me any extra for the delay in the journey. In San Juan I went to a demonstration of how they make traditional textiles as the village is famous for this and for medicinal plants. On my last day I visited a small village called Jaibalito and walked along the mountainside back to Santa Cruz.

After Lake Atitlan I spent 3 nights in Antigua which has a lot of colonial architecture and artwork. I visited the viewpoint, cathedral, lots of churches, a few convents and museums within an old monastery. I met Juan from Venezuela outside one of the churches and then went for ice cream at a place called "luna de miel" which means honeymoon in Spanish...but I didn´t get married first! Lisa and Theresa who I met at Arcas were also in Antigua at the same time so it was great to meet up with them again. We went to a few different places including a bar called "No se" which means "I don´t know" in Spanish and was entirely lit by candles and "Mono Loco" the crazy monkey with country and western music. Mono Loco was a little crazy too as a guy was standing on a table waving tickets while a trumpet was playing and some guys poured tomato ketchup over their other friend slumped on the table... living la vida loca!

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