Departure from Guatemala

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala

We have two full hours before our planes take off, and the group always tries to squeeze in an extra museum. We visit the Museo Popol Vuh.  Wonderful artifacts here, even thought they are not exactly sure where many of them came from. You can see some the ancient ocarinas and hear a soundtrack of modern musicians playing music from them. I am deeply attracted to an Early Classic stone carving of an hallucinogenic toad.

When I was a young lad, we used to refer to the kid who got to ride in the front seat of the car to the right of the driver as riding shotgun. Some kids felt that if they were the first to call out, “I claim shotgun.” it would better their chance of securing this coveted place. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not. But we never really asked why was it called riding shotgun  and no firearms were actually distributed. Imagine my surprise when I saw a truck in Guatemala City carrying choice cuts of meat with a driver on the left and a man carrying a shotgun on the right. Perhaps those who long for the good old days of Wyatt Earp, could find a home in Guatemala.

With this, my Guatemala adventures came to an end, then on the plane to Las Vegas for a different cultural experience.

A day of rest and recovery

Location: Antigua, Guatemala

We are still in Antigua. Several in our party have had a case of the runs, and last night was my turn. I take some Loperamide, drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. By mid-afternoon I am back to my normal self. It is a good thing that today was a free day, so I just take my time exploring the city.

Street in Antigua, Guatemala

I saw some interesting craft shops and found some more masks. I visit the old public laundry where there are about twenty stone basins where the local ladies came to do their wash.

Public Laundry at Antigua, Guatemala

We spend our last night out at a fancy restaurant and get rowdy and tell stories and give our farewells.

Marta, our group leader, telling stories

Antigua, Guatemala, where the volcanos and earthquakes make their home.

Location: Antigua, Guatemala

The city was founded in 1543, and was originally the capital of Guatemala, but the place seemed to be prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. So in 1776 they finally decided that this may not be the best place to put a major city, so they abandoned the town and moved the capital to Guatemala City.  Antigua, Guatemala is popular with tourists, both the rich and the backpackers. The place looks clean and prosperous. The only buildings that I saw that were over one story, were buildings constructed over two centuries ago.

Church ruins in Antigua, Guatemala

Most of the old buildings were  churches, several of them repurposed into hotels. The exposed foundations show a signature mixture of bricks and basalt.

Ruins in Antigua, Guatemala

Volcanos loom over the city in all directions,

Volcano at Antigua, Guatemala

and the streets are paved with chunks of basalt.

Paving stones at Antigua, Guatemala

We visit a candle making shop and a jade workshop.

Candle shop in Antigua, Guatemala

The hotel room has a mirror, but not over the sink.  If I was still into shaving, this would have been rather awkward.

Bathroom in Antigua, Guatamala

There was a dresser and TV stand, but no desk or chairs, and no decorations on the wall. It had a modern shower, but low fired brick tiles on the floor that leave your feet more gritty after you shower than before. On the other hand it has the best sheets of any place I stayed in Guatemala.

Indiana James and the Pathway of Mud

Location: Nakum, Guatemala


The trip to Nakum involved an hour and a half ride in the back of a pickup truck traveling through the jungle over a dirt road.  Let me correct that, it wasn’t entirely a dirt road. It was more like 1/3 dirt, 1/3 mud, and 1/3 swamp puddle. We knew that last week a truck was stuck on this trail and the passengers had to walk back to civilization, and that three other drivers had refused to take us up this road. I can say that in all my sheltered lifetime, I have never been over a worse road in my life. In the swampy places the truck would heave up and down and side to side and buck like rodeo bull.

The Road to Nakum

Meanwhile we passengers in the back of the truck were ducking to avoid the low hanging branches, palm fronds, and vines. Were we distressed? Not at all, we were whooping and hollering like we were on a grand adventure ride. And indeed we were. At the first few slippery areas, we wondered if the driver could make it through, by the end of the trip, we would have trusted him to driven us off road to Tera del Fuego.

Indiana James

The trip was worth it for the adventure ride alone, but the Maya site of Nakum was something wonderful to behold.  There were grand structures, with labyrinth-like  steps and and surprise trails taking you from one structure to another.

A Temple at Nakum

There were circular arches unlike those I have seen at any other Maya site ever. There were astonishing views.

There were towering unrestored temples covered in the green jungle vegetation with fairy-like paths leading between them.

Unrestored Ruins at Nakum

It fulfilled my fantasy as to what an almost perfect archaeological site should look like. I say almost perfect because there is a slight bit of a mosquito problem.

Then, of course, there is the repeat of the adventure ride on the way back, and we arrive shaken, if not stirred at the site of Yaxhá. It was getting late and we did not have much time to explore, but I was able to climb the tall temple pyramid with a picture postcard view of the lake.

Lake view from pyramid at Yaxhá

We stayed at the Hotel Flores, Flores, Petén, Guatemala. The hotel beds were a bit firm for my taste and it was on the fourth floor with no elevator, but after climbing the pyramids the stairs were a piece of cake. (But, I must admit, I did have the bellman lug my luggage.) On the plus side the hotel was near some interesting craft stores. I ended up with a suitcase full of masks and carvings.

Rubble, chewing gum and things that howl in the night.

Location: Uaxactún, Petén, Guatemala

At four in the morning I awake to the sound of howler monkeys. My brain knows that these are just monkeys and unlikely to approach, but their sounds are intimidating enough to make me hesitate to venture out of my room into the night. For those of you who have not heard them, do not sound at all like monkeys, they sound like giant ten foot beasts.

The lack of electricity at night takes me back to my early teenage years when I was supposed to be asleep, but would secretly read in bed with a flashlight.

We then travel to the remote village of Uaxactún. It is a bit over an hour’s ride through the jungle on a gravel and dirt road.  The site is one of the earliest in the area with some of the structures dating back to 2,000 BC. It one time conquered Tikal, but was then reconquered by King Jaguar Paw around 400 AD. It is also an important spiritual site. The present day Maya elders come to this place to practice their celestial celebrations. It was excavated in the 1920’s and 1930’s by the Carnage Institute.

Ruins at Uaxactún

As with most sites there are many unrestored mounds. But here they have been cleared of the jungle plants, and are now covered with low green foliage. Somehow they make me feel close to my father, as they remind me of the Adena mound builder sites that he and I explored in my youth in Kentucky.

Rubble and horse at Uaxactún

Other buildings have some large Maya stone masks and buildings with internal stairways to explore.

Temple of Masks at Uaxactún

This used to be a major gathering site for chicle, the tree sap that was used to make chewing gum. The industry moved elsewhere when the area was inclosed in the National Park, but locals are still allowed to gather small amounts. I bought a square from one of the local ladies, and sure enough, it works just like chewing gum. Sadly, most kids today have never had organic chewing gum, but instead make do with a form of synthetic rubber.

The Uaxactún also had the Museum Juan Antonio Valdés, one of the most astonishing museums I have ever been to. In most museums the artifacts are carefully staged and behind glass.

Display shelf – Museum Juan Antonio Valdés

Here there are fabulous vases and artifacts just resting on simple wooden shelves. and they allow you to actually hold these thousand year old ceramics. Most impressive.

Vase of the pierced penis – Museum Juan Antonio Valdés

Our hotel in El Remate was dated and eccentric, calling itself “The clean and green place to stay.”

The Clean and Green Place

It makes you wonder what they are implying about their competition. It has a lovely viewing platform to watch the sunset over Lago de Petén Itzá.

Sunset Lago Peten Itza