Saturday, February 19, 2011

Honeymoon Redux I: Guatemala

Continuing in the vein of procrastinating on finishing the post I meant to work on, I figured it was about time to post better, edited photos from our honeymoon. I decided to work my way backwards, starting with Guatemala (our final destination) and ending, five posts later, with Panama (our first stop). I won't do all five posts at once, but will instead space them out over next week.

I also chose to do Guatemala first because while we were on the honeymoon itself, I posted updates with unedited photos from every country except that one, where between the ruins, paradisical turquoise pools and colonial grandeur of Antigua, we were just too busy.

We began in Guatemala with Tikal, which I believe is a legally mandated stop for all tourists to Guatemala. If you don't go, they cane you or something.

The fun thing about Tikal was that you can climb many of the temples via added staircases on the side, built out of the main range of vision so that they don't obstruct the view, and clamoring tourists won't wear down the stone steps.

As you can see, the temples at Tikal are massive, but also mostly unadorned. (This is a view of Temple V).

I strongly recommend, even if you stay in the nearby backpacker haven of Flores for part of your stop in Tikal (Flores is a lovely place to hang out for a day or two, by the way), that you spend at least one night near Tikal itself. There are cheap food options and you can stay rather affordably - if you're not a backpacker - at the Tikal Inn or other places.

Why do this? Well, if you buy a ticket for Tikal at 3:30pm, they won't punch it, so you can use it all day the next day. In the early hours of the morning, you wake up to the screams of howler monkeys (which is all cool and jungle-y and, despite it being primates rather than reptiles, sounds like something out of Jurassic Park). You can be at the park in the early morning and late evening, when there are fewer tourists. That's when you'll start seeing monkeys and coatimundi.
Here's an antiqued view of either Temple I or II from the top of Temple V.

On the way to the poetically named Temple of the Inscriptions (which is honestly something of a letdown - you can't get up close, there's really only one major engraving and it's in a greater state of ruin than the others) we walked along a quiet trail - famous for being a hangout for thugs before the site had adequate police protection, which was worrisome - and we saw many insects, butterflies and a coatimundi.
Leafcutter ants make for great photographs!

I love the gnarled roots in this faded-out photo of Semuc Champey, 60 kilometers from Coban (20 of those kilometers are pure hell on bumpy mud roads).

To get there from Tikal, we took a shared van - but the direct route from Sayaxche was flooded out, so we had to go south and west via Rio Dulce. Go plot Flores to Coban via Rio Dulce and you'll see how trying that was.

Semuc Champey is near the small town of Lanquin, which is both friendly and picturesque.

Semuc Champey is a series of pools of varying color filled with clear, swimmable water. It was made when a natural limestone bridge formed over a river, and more water cascaded over the stone. The color of the water varies in jewel tone from aquamarine to turquoise to emerald.

Every town in Guatemala has its church, and Lanquin is no exception.

I love this photo for its simplicity (for the record, I did ask and they were happy to pose).

We stayed at El Retiro - deservedly popular with backpackers, it's scenic, friendly and relaxing, and only a short walk from Lanquin town. It was definitely worth it to stay there, even though the culture there is more early-twenties and we were thirty year olds on a honeymoon (they do have private rooms).

From Lanquin, we took a charter van to Antigua (not wanting to stay in Guatemala City at all). We stayed at Casa Cristina, a charmingly cozy and affordable hotel near Iglesia de la Merced. I highly recommend it.

I'm a big fan of the giant rosaries draped on the front of some churches, and Iglesia de la Merced is no exception.

The Arco Santa Catalina - no pictoral of Antigua is complete without it, even though I didn't get a truly great picture. It was originally built so that nuns living in the monastery could cross the street to the other monastic building without being seen.

The fountain in the town square just after sunset - you can see a bit of the town cathetdral in the background in white plaster.

I'm not sure what I like more about this photo - the "Bronze" sign, the fairy light nativity scene or the overall composition.

Guatemala was hit by a devastating earthquake in the 1700s and some things were never rebuilt, including this Monstery of the Recollection on the edge of town.

One thing I loved about Antigua were all the oddball door knockers, including this one of a rodent of some sort - there were also upturned heads, hands, tigers, dogs, demons, old men and myriad other designs.

Parts of Antigua are still a bit untouched-up - it shows that this city was lifted out of disrepair by all that has still not been done. The city is full of Maya who come in to sell their wares to tourists.

Behind the white facade of the church above, you'll find the ruins of the old church with it's blown-out domes - when clouds float overhead through the openings it's magical. This is one ruin, like the Recollection, better left as is.

The skyline of Antigua is dominated by this volcano - this picture, by the way, was taken from our hotel room ($5 for a volcano view - totally worth it).

Another awesome door-knocker.

Guatemala City has such an awful reputation that we skipped it altogether, taking a shared van from Antigua straight to the airport when it was time to fly home. I've heard way too many sketchy and disturbing things about Guate to ever want to go there.

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