From El Salvador to Guatemala to Mexico

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August 22nd 2006
Published: August 22nd 2006
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Famous Temple ruins in Tikkal, GuatemalaFamous Temple ruins in Tikkal, GuatemalaFamous Temple ruins in Tikkal, Guatemala

The Mayan temples at Tikkal are the largest in the world, and many remain hidden underground. This one, Temple of the Jaguar (i think) is pctured on seemingly every National Geographic! It was also the location where they filmed "Star Wars, Episode 1". It was incredible to actually see it ourselves: amazing to think that such advanced civilizations existed so long ago....
Well, Steve and I have arrived safely in Mexico-- yay! We´re finally on the last leg of the journey....Just one more week to go. I really wanted to post some pìcs of the cool things weve seen and done, but it appears that my camera cable got lost/left behind at some point, so no more pics until I get home..... ):

Here´s a brief re-cap of what we´ve been up to. After sucessfully taking Ticabus from Nicaragua through Honduras, we managed to get across the El Salvadorian border (phew!) and spent the night in a dingy little hostel in San Salvador before the final leg of or journey to Guatemala the next day. The hospedaje we stayed out was heavily locked and gated, with a sliding metal door with three locks, topped with barbed wire, and a wooden beam placed across the back just for added measure. The man at the door told us that "no one comes in or out after 9pm, so you´d better be back here before then". That was our first indication that San Salvador is not a very safe city. Our suspicions were confirmed when we went out to go get food. It was about
Antigua, GuatemalaAntigua, GuatemalaAntigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a stunning colonial city, surrounded by mountains and volcanos (including Mt.Pacaya) on all sides. It's truly breathtaking scenery-- the prettiest city we saw.
4pm and we were STARVING after not having eaten since the only time the bus stopped, at about 10am (we have learned that Ticabus does not stop-- so pack food!). We went looking for a "Comedor" (eatery), but everything was closed. Apparently nothing opens until about 6pm; dinner must be a very timed and regulated thing there. If u happen to get hungry before the appointed time, well, tough luck! So we sat in a stuffy, swelteringly hot comedor across from the bus station for over an hour, waiting for them to cook the food (what else was there to do?). As we waited, we witnessed a city bus being robbed. We heard a whole bunch of commotion outside, and went out to look, only to see a man climbing OUT of the front bus window, while men, women and children were madly dashing out of the open back doors. A woman ran towards us, and once she reached the safety of the Comedor entrance she began explaining in rapid spanish to the owner that there had been some sort of an accident or something, where the bus had bumped the car in front, then men from the other vehicle
Mount PacayaMount PacayaMount Pacaya

Steve and I, standing on a river of molten lava that had just spilled down the hillsaide a few days before! (it was still flowng in come places-- he poked it with a stick!)
jumped out and boarded the bus and began yelling and fighting-- possibly trying to rob the driver. The driver began fighting back, and in the commotion the passangers panicked and began to flee. I was fascinated (I mean, we had been warned that San Salvador was a dangerous city, but to see a robbery on the ONE NIGHT we were there?!), but Steve inisited that I go back into the safety of the comedor. I was annoyed, cuz I wanted to watch, but in hind sight I´m sure he was right... That was San Salvador. By 5am the next morning we were back on the bus again, on our way to Guatemala City-- our final destination.

Guatemala City was a little overwhelming for me: I could feel the reverse-culture shock setting in, as I have been warned that it would. It was just so...WESTERNIZED. Which I suppose is to be expected, given that we are heading North from the (so called) "developing" country of Nicaragua to the more "developed" countries of Mexico and Belice, and finally the US and Canada (the pinacle of the "developed world"?). But it was just hard to witness the simplicity of Nicaraguan country life--
Mount PacayaMount PacayaMount Pacaya

Mt.Pacaya is one of 3 volcanos in the vicinity, and it was smoking-- as was volcan del Fuego (fire Volano) opposite us. it was so bright up there! u can see how I got sunstroke.....
wooden houses with tin roofs, chickens clucking around in the yard and children gazing at the bus going by-- giving way to lavish houses under lock and key in El Salvador and Guatemala. Gated compounds surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, women in the latest fashions with ridiculosly high-heeled stillettos and over-sized sunglasses, SUVs and Burger king chains. I was repulsed and angered at the thought that these urban people likley think themselves so much better and more "civilized" for all their luxuries; when they so clearly are NOT. It´s all just perspective: "development" is a myth. I felt very confused, so I sat in silence most of the bus ride. When we arrived in Guatemala City we took a cab to the bus station, where we took a bus to the nearby city of Antigua-- I wanted to get out of that urban, concrete jungle as soon as possible.

Antigua, Guatemala is actually a stunningly beautiful colonial town. It was the former capital of Guatemala, before it was moved to Guatemala City, leaving Antigua to become a tourist haven and Spanish-language centre. The city has been preserved in its original beauty, and though it has become incredibly
Steve pokes flowing lava on Mount PacayaSteve pokes flowing lava on Mount PacayaSteve pokes flowing lava on Mount Pacaya

Since this was prly the highlight of the entire TRIP for him, I thought i shouls post Steve's moment of lava poking: the lava was red-hot and slowly flowing, and the stick errupted into flames on contact. Steve lost the hair on his arms for his troubles! But how cool is it to say "I've touched lava"?! Definately worth it.
touristy, it is not too overwhelmingly Americanized yet: for example, there is a McDonalds, but it is housed in a normal colonial-style building painted maroon (not glaring red and yellow), with a tasteful little wooden sign outside in place of the gaudy "golden arches" that anounce the presence of McDonalds in the rest of the world. Antigua also has an extensive market of indigenous weaving and hand-crafts, which I was SUPER excited to check out. On our first day there we went to visit the nearby Volcano called "Mount Pacaya"-- which had last errupted just 10 days ago. Since April the volcano has been spewing molten lava, sending a river of lava 15 meters wide cascading down the side, causing local village residants some cause for worry. The recent erruptions are the first in 10 years. The lava has now mostely cooled, and can be walked on (so cool!). However the rock is still stemaing, and our guide said that the lava underneath will not fully cool for 3 years, and plants and trees will not be able to grow there for another 30 years! We walked as close to the crater as they wouild allow, and were able to
Sunset over Flores, GuatemalaSunset over Flores, GuatemalaSunset over Flores, Guatemala

This pic was taken from right outside our room in an hospedaje called "Mirador del Lago" (Lakeview) in Flores-- which is a small tourist island, not far from the famous ruins of Tikkal.
approach areas of lava that were still LIVE! It was sooo cool! Steve got a stick and poked the lava, and the stick lit on fire (I have pics, but unfortunately no cable...). It was DEFINATELY worth the arduous, 2 hour hike to the summit. Although I got sun/heat-stroke, and spent the rest of the day nauseaous, unable to eat, and vomiting. I ended up with a high fever (I´m not sure if that was heat-stroke, or a possible combination of that and food-poisoning), which lasted all night and most of the next day. This meant that I could not enjoy the market at all, and since we had already paid for bus tickets to Tikaal (the famous Mayan jungle ruins) at 6pm that night, arriving at 3am the next day, we could not stay in Antigua to see them the next day. I was bummed out about that. And the bus rtide was HORRIBLE: not only was i delirious with fever, coming in and out of hot and cold sweats, but the bus had been over-packed so that the bathroom was stuffed full of boxes and un-usable, and there were people sitting in the aisles. The seats were cramped
smaller temple in Tikkal, Guatemalasmaller temple in Tikkal, Guatemalasmaller temple in Tikkal, Guatemala

The Tikkal reservation spreads for something like 16 miles, with hundreds of partically-uncovered structures and impressive temples. It would literally take DAYS to see it all. This was one of the smaller temples we discovered, as we watched Howler monkies battling it out for territory in the trees above us (that is a SCARY sound, let me tell you! sounded like Jaguars....)
and increadibly uncomfortable: all in all it was a miserable trip.

We finally arrived in Floresat 3am, an island-town just outside Tikaal. The island exists soley for tourism, so things were pretty pricey. But there is a cool and friendly back-packing clientelle and atmosphere, which we enjoyed. We found a GREAT hospedaje there for cheap called "Mirador del Lago", with a lake-view and everything. I spent the entire day sleeping-off the fever. And while I am now fever-free, I have remained pretty sick-to-my-stomach ever since-- so I will be glad to get home and try and normalize my diet and my stomach! The next day we visited Tikaal: the only way to describe it is AMAZING. Stunning. I was floored. Without pictures I really can´t do it justice, so I wont try. Except to say that it is everything you imagine when you think of jungle ruins: giant looming pyramids tickle the bottom of passing clouds, monkeys swinging from the tree canopy, random animals crossing your path. And llooking out from the top of the larget ruin, "Temple IV" (Temple of the Double-Headed serpent), and seeing glistinig white pyramids poking out of thick, dense jungle canopy far below....incredible. And
Sketchy boat-ride across the boareder from Guatemala into Chiapas, MexicoSketchy boat-ride across the boareder from Guatemala into Chiapas, MexicoSketchy boat-ride across the boareder from Guatemala into Chiapas, Mexico

When we had to get out of the minibus and climb into these little boats in order to go up river and cross the border into Chiapas, we were a little nervous. Was this even LEGAL?! Apparently it was. I felt like an explorer of the Amazon river, as the boat sped along the brown water past scenery of huts on the muddy river bank. So cool!
all built between 400BC - 900AD (can u believe it?!). These pyramids were built in order to caluculate the movements of the stars (they acurately predicted solar eclipses and astrological events up until 2012AD!), and were the first civilization to invent the number zero. Awe inspiring.

From Flores we took the bus across the border to Palenque, Mexico the next day. I had been expecting a normal Ticabus/greyhound bus/caoch-type ride (as inter-city jouneys usually are). However we found ourselves on a 5-hour mini-bus ride over un-paved dirt roads, arriving at a rivers edge, where we were then told that we were taking BOATS across the river to Mexico! And when I say "boats" I don´t mean like a ferry: I mean like a motorized canoe, the kind you see on pics of ppl travelling up the Amazon. It was VERY cool! A nice change. After a 25 minute boat-ride in long, narrow wooden boats with thatched rooves, we arrived at the other side of the river, for a further 2 and a half hour trip to Palenque. Palenque is a small town/city in Chiapas, one of Mexico´s most southern states, with a laregly iniigenous population-- infamous for the Zapatista
Watchtower ruins in Palenque, MexicoWatchtower ruins in Palenque, MexicoWatchtower ruins in Palenque, Mexico

This tower was a later addition by one King to his fathers' buildings, taking Aztec inflence onto Mayan-style arcitecture. How cool is it that they had a tower to observe the heavens?! So incredibly advanced. Though still not as impressive as Tikkal....
uprising of January 1st 1994 (on that day Canada, the US and Mexico signed the free-trade agreement, "NAFTA", and the natives of Chiapas used the oppertunity when the world´s eyes were on Mexico to launch a media campaign to raise awareness of their plight; beginning what was essentially a civil war to demand autonomy and self-government in the region. They were the first inidigenous group to use modern technology for such a purpose.) While that all sounds very interesting, having viurtually no money left we are pretty much stuck here in Palenque twiddling our thumbs, wasting the time away for the next few days until we go to Mexico City-- we can´t afford to travel anywhere else or see any of the sights. So here we are: happy and contented, if a little bored. At least we managed to get out of Nicaragua! Until next time:

Additional photos below
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The best Qusadillas EVER!The best Qusadillas EVER!
The best Qusadillas EVER!

We discovered early on that the best and cheapest places to eat are in the markets where the locals do-- NOT in the tourist markets. In the heart of the market in San Cristobal, Mexico we found a place that sold HUGE Quesadillas, filled with melted cheese and meat "al pastor" (the best kind!), for only a few pesos! we ate there pretty much every day while we were there: nothing else compared!
Central square in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, MexicoCentral square in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Central square in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

How goregous is the colonial architecture of the catholic Churches in Mexico?!

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