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Published: February 24th 2015
Taken from the road to the Pacific coast from Pana
As nice as the lake is we still decided that we were getting too settled in our Atitlan ways and felt the need to re-experience life at sea level. We hired Lee, our host, to run us over to the Pacific coast for a two night road trip. Lee is a certified guide and has lived here for the past nine years with his wife, Elaine.
We boated over to Pana where Lee keeps his ride, filled the tank for $3 a gallon and vibrated westward over pot-hole riddled roads. We stopped just above the lake near San Lucas Atitlan to catch the spectacular view of the volcanoes and lake-shore. An old man, sitting on a shady bench, told us some local facts in exchange for a few coins. Two dogs dozed under a bush. It was all downhill from there.
Made a stop at a local Finca (coffee plantation) which is still a working plantation but is also popular with tourists because a good part of the land is now held as a wildlife refuge and bird watching area. The farm is still operated by the same German family who set up the operation back in the 19th
Located at an old Finca near the Pacific Coast
century. Most of the Fincas in this area were established by Germans as they were considered experts in the field due to their work with coffee beans in Africa. I learned that the very best coffee is grown in fields where the coffee bushes experience 50% shade during daylight hours.
We drove south on Route 11 until we reached the Pacific Coastal Highway which, despite its name, is not within viewing distance of the ocean. What we did experience were climbing temps, air as humid as Florida's in August and a helluvalot of traffic. This highway is a major route running from Mexico to El Salvador. At least the highway here is paved. I saw lots of sugar cane trucks hauling loads to local refiners. Soaring Ceiba trees, reminiscent of Sequoias, provide shade. Even in clear-cut forests they survive because it is illegal to cut these trees down. It is Guatemala's national tree. In light of the fact that all kinds of illegal activity goes on in Guatemala without anyone batting an eye; The trees' survival is all the more remarkable.
We stopped at the Takalik Maya Resort. It is a renovated Finca that offers a variety of
Riding To Takalik
A three kilometer ride to the ruins. We should have walked.
rooms sprinkled amongst the old Finca buildings. We were surrounded by jungle. Cacao trees, bromeliads, wild orchids, bananas and vociferous bats. For our full story go to:
The next morning we ran wild and arranged for transport to some local Mayan ruins by horseback. The ride was 3 Km long but I was ready to dismount about 100 meters into the ride as I doubted that my mount's health was up to the chore. We finally made it but things went very, very slowly.
The ruins were a surprise. Very cool. Very eye opening. Even to this day the locals use the altar sites to make offerings ensuring good health, a successful pregnancy, help with business problems and more. Takalik is an active dig and all around us we saw workmen hard at it uncovering ancient paths, buildings and carved stones called stellae. There were few visitors when we were there and our wizened guide Bernardo was a flat out trip. Very funny dude with a warehouse worth of Mayan facts buried in his noggin. The guides here only speak Spanish so be advised. Karen and I could catch every other word and Lee filled in
the rest. Mayan civilization was established around 2000 BC and survived until the Spanish conquests in the 16th Century. Over three thousand five hundred years of existence. Lives led, dreams fulfilled, families spawned. All of their stories now gone. What little we know is being pieced together from digs like this one. Read more here:
The number one Mayan site that visitors here gravitate to is Tikal. Tikal is in northern Guatemala near the border with Belize. As a result of its popularity, Tikal is overrun with tourists and vendors. Hotels gouge on rooms. Entrance fee to get into Tikal is $22. If you want to see a sunrise in Tikal that's an extra $12. If you want to see the sunset it's another $12. Get my drift? Karen and I decided to see the ruins in Copan, Honduras just across the border with Guatemala. We've heard many good things about the town, the ruins and the natives there so I'll be writing one blog entry more than I had anticipated. For more on Copan go to:
From Takalik we drove to Retalhuleu for lunch. Retalhuleu is an old town with a population of
40,000. Town square with a church and a park. During the civil war the military airbase was used as an interrogation center. Prisoners were kept in water filled pits. After interrogation the survivors were loaded in military aircraft, flown 30-minutes west and dumped into the Pacific. A disposal trick that the Guatemalans learned from the Argentinian Junta.
Retahuleu is not a spot that most tourists will visit. We appeared to be the only Gringos in town that day. We ate lunch at the Restaurant La Luna. Good Guatemalan fare of grilled meats, beans, tortillas and some of the best smoothies I have ever encountered. Lunch for 3 with all of the bells and whistles was 150 Quetzales.
The heat was doing us in so we swung back north to the mountain town of Zunil. When we hit 2,000 feet of altitude every one of us breathed a sigh of relief. Dry air and cool temps. We climbed higher through incredibly steep hillsides that were quilted under fields of potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and much more. Unlike the Peruvians, the Mayans do not terrace their fields. The plants go directly into the slopes. We could not fathom
how the farmers were able to work these fields without tumbling down the hillsides but they do.
The area is thermally active. There is a geothermal power plant just outside the town. A number of spas can be found here. We spent the night in the spa Fuentes Georgina high atop a volcanic ridge. The bungalows were bare bones but each room had a fireplace and a good supply of oak to burn. We had a big tub to steam in. More like an in-ground lap pool. A large faucet provided an ample supply of very hot water from the thermal vent. The views into the 4,000 foot deep valley from the bungalow were exceptional. There are also three large, hot pools adjacent to the resort restaurant. Karen and I got up early the next morning and lit our way with flashlights to the pools. Very nice.
You're a captive audience in these remote spots. We met Lee at the restaurant for dinner along with all of the other guests who needed a feed. Supper was consumed while we talked about our early years and how we had come to be where we were now. On a mountain
The central square or plaza. Very European feel here and the town is populated by hospitable folks. A must see city in Guatemala. It was once the provincial capital until an earthquake struck it down in 1902
in Guatemala. What a long strange trip it's been.
The next morning we headed out to Quetzaltenango. It was the old Guatemalan capital until a massive earthquake hit it in 1902. Today it's a sleepy burg with a decidedly European buzz. Nice old buildings designed by an Italian architect with a vision. Beautifully landscaped park in the city square. Nice restaurants and cafes. The people are very mellow. Feels like the Ramblas in Barcelona. There's money there. Quetzal is a commercial center for this part of Guatemala. The outskirts of town are a sprawl of strip malls with every fast food operation and big box store well represented.
We headed back to Atitlan via the Pan American Highway. We drove at 10,000 feet. A massive slope, treed with 50-foot arrow straight conifers ran along our right. On the roadside, compesinos laded to the breaking point with firewood ,made their ways down the mountain. We stopped in Solola for lunch at the Mirador restaurant. Glass walled dining room overlooking the lake. Atitlan is a remarkable place. Karen and I were fortunate to have finally found not only our way here but also to have stumbled across Lee and Elaine's
Chico Della Lancha
I saw this boy nearly every day on the boat. He was usually assisting an elderly person in carrying their goods to the Pana market from an outlying village.
place. We haven't been this content since our stay in Cannakale, Turkey.
Shouts out to Noah and Aerin and alerts to Braden Oaks as we are coming back for more than a week. To Tolga and Alex and everybody else at Matka Canyon and buds in Slovakia, Slovenia, Piotr in Krakow and Caspar in Berlin and Klaus and Ulf. We're still out here guys. 13 months now and sad to see it end. Till next time.
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