Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Land Ho.....All Ashore That Be Goin' Ashore!

Hot waterfalls, ancient city and an old city. Much fun and exploration ahead to be completed in a few days time. The return airline tickets have crept to the top of the pile and are a constant reminder that our time with Bryna, John and Bryce is drawing to a close. Time, one of the measurements by which humanity operates, has moved much too fast. We all are trying not to dwell on the departure date. Determined to continue living in the present, savoring every last moment, and receptive to absorbing all that discovery and exploration provide. 

So, here we go in a whirlwind.........

First outing is to the hot waterfalls, a trek up one of the rivers along the north shore of Lago Izabel. You can get to the waterfall by road taking a taxi to the ranch, Finca el Paraiso or by boat, entering the east end of Lago Izabel from the Rio Dulce and heading toward the north shore where the ranch comes down to the lakefront. We chose to take the lake route so we could see the old fortress and castle, El Castillo de San Felipe which resides at the mouth where Lago Izabel empties into the Rio Dulce. 

The fortress was built in 1652 to protect the villages and commercial traffic. The fortress kept pirates at bay for 34 years until 1686 when a pirate band burned it. In 1956 the fortress and castle were restored and it is now a park.

As we motor along John is filling the dinghy with fuel in preparation for going to the beach landing and Bryna and Bryce are photographing the fort.

El Castillo de San Felipe from the Rio Dulce side....

View at the mouth of the river

The Lago Izabel view

Once we anchored along the north shore near the ranch it was a short dinghy ride to the beach. Then we hired a driver from the ranch to take us up to the trailhead to begin our hike to the waterfall.

While waiting we took the opportunity to photograph a church very near the beach.

The rear of the church is curved in the same manner as a Mayans' house. The house however, would be curved on both ends. Curious as to whether this is a blending of architecture.

The trail

The waterfall is hot, the pool is cold. 

The climb to the top is along the roots you see in the shadows on the right side of the falls.
Up we go.

At the top - Mother Natures Infinity Pool 

Mother Natures Hot Tubs
Pick one of the many

Last Call 
Time to head down and hike back to the dinghy

Next Adventure - Tikal

We asked the manager here at Tortugal if he new a driver with a minivan that could take us to Tikal and be willing to spend the night if we paid for his room. Yes, he new a gentleman so we hired him and off we went.
The restaurant next to the lot where we met our driver. For those of you who do not know, our grandaughters' name is Jocelyn.

We had a four hour ride ahead of us with a stop in Flores for lunch.

Flores Street Scene

Forward to Tikal

I realize as we go through our photographs of the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, we captured a mere fragment of the grandeur of the structures and retained but a small fraction of the history from our guide. What we did come away with, in great abundance, is a reverence for the Maya and a thirst for more stories of their fascinating impact on humanity.

Realizing that we do not have enough words to describe our adventure, we would like to pass along a suggestion. Come and see this place for yourselves. 

Guatemala has an abundance of Mayan sights.
The people are gentle, willing and helpful. Knowledgeable guides are available and we recommend using one. You will hear Mayan history, receive botany lessons, enjoy bird watching and searching for wildlife. Most guides have the ability to see and hear what we may not recognize, then point you in the right direction to see the bird or wildlife. Bring binoculars.We chose the sunrise tour and recommend it highly. That allows you to spend the rest of the day exploring on your own. 

A travel tip for Tikal. Arrive shortly after 3:30pm at the park entrance. The fee at that time of day allows you to walk around the ruins until after sunset, and also allows you a full day the next day. You will need all of that time, and probably more.
There are hotels and campsites inside the park. We chose the Jaguar Inn located inside the park. Our room was most pleasant. The restaurant served delicious local dishes and the staff was courteous and helpful.

All checked in, so we dropped our packs in our room and quickly headed out to the trail to start the hike to Temple IV to watch the sunset.

Bryce showing off his muscles

Charlie ascending last set of steps in search of a good seat.

Atop Temple IV - Bryna verifying some tidbit of info.

We will return to this pyramid in the morning to watch the sunrise.
Glad we climbed it in the daylight. We have a sense now for the dark ascent come morning.

Sun setting casts amber glow on Temples I, II, and III 

Our sunrise guide knocked on our hotel room door a little bit before 4am. Brought us coffee.
Collected his remaining charges from the next hotel and then off we went with our headlamps to climb Pyramid IV with the plan of arriving in the dark to watch the sunrise and listen to the jungle wake up.

We were not very far along the path when the guide gathered us around, shining his flashlight on a tarantula. Using his hands to herd the tarantula, without touching, some people were able to get a photo op. When asked, "How poisonous are they?" the guide answered, "Not bad. I only got a rash from my neck to my toes last time I handled one."

Continuing on, our guide stopped to explain the standing stone shown below, located in front of  a temple in the Grand Plaza. He began his paces approximately 100 feet back from the stone. While shining the flashlight - a substitute for a moon rising - at the stone and moving forward, the picture on the stone changes. Looking like a lunarscape. It could have been the hour of the day but neither of us recall with clarity, the reason this is so important. It does have something to do with measuring the equinox.   

This tour was well worth the effort of; rising in the dark, heading out in the dark, hiking in the dark, listening to the dark, getting educated along the way by our guide, climbing the stairs that scale the pyramid in the dark, find a seat in the dark, then wait quietly and patiently for sunrise.

Let me emphasize the word - qui....et....ly.... Other tour groups had joined us along the way. As in every group there are some that just do not or cannot pay attention to instructions. We had acquired a cluster of people that wanted to chat and rattle granola or candy bar wrappers and in general impose on the pre-dawn reverent stillness the rest of us wished to enjoy. Fortunately our guide stepped forward and gently, with the softest voice, admonished the group. The rest of the time, much to our delight,  was spent in the silence of humans. Then ever so gently the voice of the jungle came hither to tickle our ears. It was _______! Pick a fantabulous adjective of your choosing to fill the blank. 
Suffice to say; you needed to be there!

I downloaded onto YouTube a few seconds of jungle awakenings that I recorded with our iPad. Hope these links works for you. The roaring is Howler Monkeys. Little guys, weighing in between 8 and 22lbs, ranging from 2 to 4ft tall. They have super-sized vocal chords. The roaring is a territorial hail. I am here, where are you? The groups answer back and forth until everyone is sure they know where everyone else is. The roar call is made in the evening too, as each group likes to know where it's competition is before going to sleep.

It seems: 
Listening in the dark intensifies the sounds. Turn up the volume and close your eyes.

Pre-dawn in Tikal from Temple IV

When the sun peeks through our eyes take over and the sounds recede.

Dawn in Tikal from Temple IV

It is the dawning...........

We watched the morning mist roll through the jungle along with hundreds of birds. The sun peeked through a bit here and there. The sky remained overcast which made for a nice day of hiking in the jungle.

Time to head back down and explore 

On our way back down we spotted two of the morning singers - Green Parrots
As we hiked along the path we also saw toucans but alas, we did not get a good photo. 

Our guide with a Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra) which grows to a towering height of 150-200ft. The fibers of the kapok are lightweight and waterproof. Apparently Guatemala used to be the main exporter of kapok, which was used in life preservers.

Charlie and a Kapok

Bryce likes the gnarly moss covered root system

Heading to the Grand Plaza. John in the foreground and Charlie behind

Going up into the Grand Plaza .....

....to have a seat and spend some time with the map.

Off we go. So much to see in the hours we have left.

Abundant structures

Multiple foot paths connect to the major trails

Close ups of some of the stone carving work. The sun and the iPad could not get along.

The fellow on the steps is clearing the steps using his machete. 

I did not count the steps. I was intrigued by the pattern.

For a better idea of the scale; that is Bryce and John lower right. John adding to his photo montage of architectural interests.

A structure is hiding in the vegetation. Apparently there are several excavations still waiting for completion.

While John was photographing structures, Bryna was photographing plants.

The ferns are about the size of my pinky finger.

Jungle Art - Vine Masquerading As Rope

Another masquerading as a Bicycle? Spectacles for a Giant?

Bryna - center, Bryce - right. Deep in discussion about an aspect of this structure.

Bryna, John and Bryce climbed to the top - Top L - John - next Bryna. Bryce is out of view

John on left, Bryna stepping down

Steady now

If I had been more organized I would have photographed the relative sign for each of the structures.
Next time.

Gumbo Limbo Tree

The above is a minuscule peek at Tikal, We hope it is enough to entice you to visit. If not, and you would rather visit from your armchair, view the websites below. These are just two of the many.



Antigua, Here We Come

Getting there; 6 hours on a bus from Fronteras to Guatemala City. Change buses. Then ride an additional hour to Antigua. We had lots of advice from fellow cruisers on where to stay and things to do. More than we could accomplish on this trip.

Coming up the street to our hotel on the right: Posada San Vicente

Courtyard at our hotel


The roof top patio

Antigua, the former capital, sometimes referred to as, Old Guatemala City is a city of resilience.
Its' history of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flooding drove the city to near abandonment.
The city, its' history, the persistence of its populous to persevere is evident. One could easily spend a week, or better yet, a season here exploring the city and the surrounding countryside.

One of the three volcanoes barely visible in the early morning  

On a clear day

We arrived on a Sunday during a Semana Santa - Easter week  - celebration. We think this is a Palm Sunday celebration. The Parque Central was jammed with food vendors and people. A giant heavenly smelling smorgasbord of which we partook, in excess. Delicious!

These mosaic carpets are made out of flower petals and colored sawdust. There were several all around the park, of all different designs. This one was free of crowds at the moment so we were able to get a photo.
During Holy Week each church has a platform displaying its revered icons depicting the scenes of Holy Week. The platform is elaborately carved and carried by 64 acolytes dressed in purple robes. The Processionals parade right through the mosaic carpets then each one is re-constructed for the next day's Processional.

Oh look. a Mini!

Beautiful courtyard for lunch

Surrounded by flowers

A smattering of ruins and street scenes.

A gorgeous hotel. Perfect for a special occasion. Their website below.


The "Copacabana" chandelier

Cascades of stunning turquoise flowers in the central courtyard

You can call me, Fern.

Hand-hewn pillars in the central courtyard

Charlie's Birthday Dinner at Sabrico's

We celebrated the birthday and the weeks of sailing together. Fabulous food has been eaten. Fine wine has been drunk. Time for lights out and a pillow. The taxi arrives in the morning. Bryna, John and Bryce will take a van from our hotel to the airport in Guatemala City. We will be very sad. Salt in our coffee.