Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Weeks In Guatemala

Here's the report of how our trip to Guatemala went. Beware – it is a bit on the long side. To see our pictures, please go to

Liz served her mission in Guatemala. Before I married her, she and her family had planned on taking a trip to Guatemala to visit some of her acquaintances there and to tour the areas that some LDS scholars believe to be locations from the Book of Mormon. There were a total of 10 of us (including the spouse of one of her sisters). Out of the 10, there were 3 (Liz, her sister Michelle who served a mission in Argentina, and I) who spoke Spanish. Also during our trip we were in bedrooms with anywhere between 3 and 6 people.

We left May 1st. Liz, her Mom and a couple others decided to take an earlier flight so that they could find the gate at the next airport, where the rest of us worked that day and left later that night. As it turned out, their flight was delayed, so that they were boarding when I was getting my ticket at the airport. We flew to LAX, and from there to Mexico City and then on to Guatemala City. One thing I thought was silly was that in Mexico City we had to go through immigration even though we were just getting on another airplane to leave the country.

We arrived in Guatemala City in the afternoon. We checked into the place where we would be staying that night. It's actually a church sponsored location next to the G.C. temple designed for those natives that had to travel long distances to attend the temple. We ended up staying there for 5 nights of our trip.

Liz wanted to go visit a couple families that she knew, so we started walking. We eventually caught some buses to the area where her acquaintances lived. They were very poor. Liz's parents' ward had created packets with soap, towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste to give out to the people there. They had brought along what had to be at least 60 packets. We handed them out to lots of people. We hopped on a bus to go back. Liz thought the bus stop we needed was coming up so she stood up. In response, some of the group got off the bus through the back door. It didn't end up being where we needed to get off, but we didn't know that the rest of the group got off until the bus was already going again. We had to have the bus stop for us to get off so we could get the rest of the group. As an upside, we did get to visit another family that Liz knew. The downside of it was that it got dark and the buses stopped running. The family that we visited tried to find neighbors that could take us back and then tried to find us a taxi. It took about 2 ½ hours before they were able to find us transportation. The taxi they found was a hatchback car. Somehow we stuffed everyone into the car. It was like one of those clown cars that everyone piles out of. The car's tires were pretty much flat with all the weight.

The next day we went to the city of Antigua. This is a unique place where all the buildings are built up to the sidewalk. So it as like walking in a canyon. Their houses are not ones like here in the States – grass, angled roof, et cetera… No, here it was just one long wall, with the different colored paint distinguishing one house / building from another. We walked up a hill to where you could see out over the city. During this time, the son of Sergio (Sergio Jr.) was our tour guide. His dad was finishing up another tour. We also attended church in Antigua.

We then went to Lake Atitlan which to most of the group translates into 'shopping'. There was one road that our hotel was on that went down to the lake that had lots of small stalls where people sold trinkets, shirts… Tourist stuff. We had quite a bit of time there to shop. There was a zipline near there so Liz and I went on it. The rest of the group decided they couldn't spare the time from their shopping. I had never been on a zipline, but it sounded like fun. Basically we had to suit up in rock climbing gear. Then we had about a 15 minute climb to the first cable (or links). We went on 9 different links that were strung between to mountains. Liz, being a little afraid of heights, was a little afraid on the first link. But the rest of the links she was just fine. She enjoyed it. For me, it was the best part of the vacation.

The next morning before we left for our next local, we went to the lake where some of us did paddle boats where others did kayaks. Then a little more shopping before heading for Mexico. We stayed in Chiapas, Mexico overnight. The next morning before we went back to Guatemala, we stopped by Izapa. Izapa has some ruins called Stelas. One in particular (Stela #5) has some carvings on it that some LDS scholars believe to be a representation of Lehi's vision of the 'Tree of Life' in the Book of Mormon. We then headed back to Guatemala City. When we were getting close to G.C. our guide got a call from his wife saying that the gas stations were not selling gas anymore. We stopped at the next gas station and got some gas. But every gas station after that had huge lines of cars trying to get gas, and some stations were closed because they had no gas. We also ran into a huge line of semi's that were parked on all but the left lane of the freeway. I later found out that it was the third day of a trucker strike protesting the hours in which they were allowed to enter the city.

We went to some museums in the city. We also went to a huge cement topo map of Guatemala. It had to be a couple hundred yards across.

On the way to our next location (Copán, Honduras) , we stopped in Jutiapa to visit someone Liz knew. The ruins at Copán had the ball courts where they played their ritualistic ball game. Our guide says that the goal of the game was to see which player was the best. That person was voluntarily sacrificed so that he could become a messenger between the people and the Gods.

We once again returned to Guatemala where we visited the Quirigua ruins. Then we went to the fort of San Felipe. This fort was on the Rio Dulce between Lake Isabel and the Caribbean. The fort was built to protect from pirates. It was very much hot and I was sweating like a pig. We then tried to go to some ruins that our guide had never been to before. We had to go down this steep dirt road that later started having big mud puddles. Big enough that our guide had some of the people get out so we wouldn't get stuck. Eventually it got so bad that we couldn't go any further. So we turned around.

The next day we went to Tikal. Our guide cautioned us to take lots of water. So Liz and I took a 1.5 liter bottled water and 2 Gatorades for each of us. Even so, I was rationing the water to last me 2 hours and each Gatorade 1 ½ hours, and I was still in need of more liquid. While the other ruins we had been to had flat groomed grass, with all the ruins next to each other – Tikal was different. Tikal was in the middle of a jungle with jeep style paths connecting groups of ruins. It would take us a half hour to walk from one group to another. It was insanely hot and humid. Sergio took us to the pyramids that had the most shade during the earlier part of the day so that when we went to the more open places the sun would not be as bad. I thought that we would be able to go up the pyramid steps, but we had to go on more modern wood steps. We climbed 2 high pyramid, with the second one having a very steep staircase. Only I, a couple of Liz's sisters and Liz climbed it. Liz took some prodding because of her fear of heights. At the top we could hear some Jaguars roar from up there. It got a little unnerving when we walked from there to the main plaza, and on the way it sounded like the Jaguars where only 50 feet away.

We then returned once again to G.C. Sergio took some of the group to a place called the Mercado Central. It was a huge building with a lot of the little stalls like there were in Antigua.

We left Guatemala on May 15th. I flew home because I had to work. The rest of the group stayed in Mexico City for a few days. Liz will have to write about that. But I can tell you that there was some of the group were pick-pocketed and Liz had an unexplained medical problem while she was at the ruins there.

Some other items of interest:

Food. I have never had such a hard time with the waiters then in Guatemala. I had a few hamburgers while I was there (it was on their menu I promise). I like my hamburgers with cheese and ketchup only and every time I ordered I told them so. Without fail it would not come as I had ordered. One place it took them a couple of tries to get it right. There was this KFC style of restaurant called Pollo Campero that served a pretty good plate of chicken nuggets. Every time I ordered it, I told them to not put on the cole's slaw, but every time they brought it with my food. I admit I do not speak Spanish as fluently as a native, but I can order a hamburger clearly. One place did not half of what they had on the menu. Also, a lot of the waiters couldn't add the bill correctly.

I also do not like their bus system. One of the days Liz and I went walking in search of a person she knew. It took us a couple of hours to get to where we wanted to go, and so we decided to take the bus back. But the problem was that there are no bus stops marked anywhere. We tried waving down buses. We saw a bus pick someone up just a little ways up the street. We went there and tried to wave down a couple of buses there. We finally walked until we found some other people there. A bus finally stopped for them, so we were able to get on. There were about 10 buses that passed before they stopped for us.

1 comment:

B. said...

Sounds like you had a fun and exciting trip. Only you would find hamburgers and chicken nuggets while traveling abroad. Nice pictures Thanks for sharing.