After spending two days in a place with showers that made us avoid them with whimpers of fear, followed by an entire day in the back of trucks on dirt roads, having a shower was the only thing on our minds upon arrival in El Estor. And, oh was it sweet. Never mind that there’s no hot water, or even lukewarm, that wouldn’t become an issue until it was time to try showering in the morning. Afterwards we strutted around town all slicked up like Hutterites at the mall.
El Estor turned out to be a nice relaxed place to spend a few days. The name, which means “The Store”, was coined by pirates during the 17th Century who were bold enough to come all the way upriver from the Caribbean for supplies. Anyway, along with playing cards and drinking Gallo with some of the other folks who managed to make it here from Lanquin, we also found time to see some of the nearby attractions.
El Paraiso is a hot spring waterfall, a strange natural phenomenon that is a great place to hang out. Several hot springs drain out into a waterfall that cascades down to a set of rocky pools in the creek below. Which means that you can stand, or swim, in normal water while being drenched from above by a steaming hot shower, au natural. There are also some underwater caves (which I gave up on fairly soon because they were kind of stagnant, I wasn’t scared, that’s for sure) and lots of rock piles and other pools to wander around. Since it is such a popular spot the park posts a guard who is in charge of watching people’s belongings. Our “guard”, a little old man in cut off jeans, wasn’t quite as discreet as he probably thought he was being as we watched him covertly guzzle a bottle of Gallo in about ten seconds flat before shoving the empty into a hole in the side of the hill that he was obviously very familiar with. Then he strolled away far too casually to not look suspicious, and with his eyes darting around so shiftily that I suspected he might have even been doing that really guilty whistling thing to boot. It was a scene straight out of a bad sitcom.
We then stopped at El Boqueron for a short boat ride into a fascinating canyon where the narrow walls stretched straight up for about 250 metres on both sides. Just as we were leaving the shore our driver/paddler invited this fat shirtless cross-eyed guy to join us and he literally jumped at the chance. He was actually a friendly (and excitable) guy even if it was sometimes difficult to figure out exactly who he was talking to. We were with two girls from North Dakota we’d been hanging out with (they grew up half an hour from the border) and he seemed particularly thrilled to be in the same boat with three girls. When we were shown an odd rock formation that closely resembled a naked, and very shapely, woman he could barely contain his excitement as he mimed “very large breasts” and giggled insanely. It was so well done, in fact, that it kind of made his monkey impression later on seem anticlimactic.
The next day we hired a boat guy, Benjamin (pronounced Bayn-ha-meen) to take us to the Reserva Bocas de Polochic, a national park made up mostly of swamp, and various swamp-loving creatures. Even though we were only in a large canoe with an outboard it was still pretty cushy as we were provided with two of those big wooden patio chairs that half-recline (Laynni said she felt like the Queen of the Nile). They weren’t even held down, just plunked into the canoe, each with a tiny little lifejacket (good to about 45 pounds) on them for us to sit on. Hey, no complaints here. We then spent about four hours touring the lake and surrounding marshes looking at about a million different types of birds (pelicans, cormorants, storks, and I guess nearly a million more) some monkeys, turtles, lots of strange vegetation and……oh, did I mention the birds?
Then it was off to Flores, the jumping-off point for the world-renowned Mayan ruins of Tikal. After about five hours of uneventful bus rides we were greeted from afar by the beautiful sight of about half a dozen 60-foot tall beer cans. Yeah, you heard right, those giant inflatable beers you see at concerts and ball tournaments at home that signal to everyone within a half-mile radius that drunkenness and debauchery are just a stone’s throw away.
Incidentally we had made it to Flores just in time for their annual festival which I would say is roughly the equivalent of the Ex in Saskatoon if people were allowed to drive their cars in the Midway. Flores is actually built on a very small island, there’s maybe ten streets, yet a non-stop line of traffic pushed their way along at a snail’s pace through the crowds of people and past the pounding stereos, the kids on trampolines, the teenagers playing foosball and the games of chance (roll a marble into the correct slot to win a Grateful Dead Barbie). The only real adult ride was a ferris wheel that goes much faster than any one I’ve ever seen and, because of space constraints I suppose, jutted out into traffic where passers-by had to duck to avoid flying feet.
We thought we’d try to be well-prepared for our excursion to Tikal so we picked up some pre-wrapped ham & cheese sandwiches from the market the night before. As it turned out, however, the ham & cheese parts were really only there to camouflage the real ingredients – onions, peppers, and dogshit. Laynni actually got quite a kick out of watching me gag helplessly, trying valiantly not to vomit on public transportation. Luckily I was able to finally force my one and only mouthful down, although what with the whole gagging thing I actually ended up eating the same bit four times. It wasn’t made any easier by the guy behind us enthusiastically “clearing his throat” and horking it on the floor. You wouldn’t want to use that open window next to you, would you buddy?
Tikal was incredible, everything we had hoped for and more. It is basically the remains of what was once a massive (and obviously very wealthy) ancient Mayan city set in the middle of spectacular jungle. You could probably spend days there and still not have explored everything but we found that one full day of climbing up…and down…and up…and down…pyramids was enough for us. The highlight of our trip so far, even though loads of tour groups arrived steadily from about 10am on which tended to congest things a bit. Luckily, though, not many of the old folks with leg braces and canes ventured up any of the ruins, they mostly shuffled about at the bottom discussing the lunch schedule and stumping each other with the age-old riddle, “Hot enough for you?”
We also ran into the Isuzu Challenge again, in Tikal this time. I don’t know much about it except that it is about ten Isuzu SUVs painted like yellow and black zebras that appear to be off-roading roughly the same route as we are. Interestingly enough, from where I stand we seem to be winning.
Oh yeah, one more note about Flores: the fireworks were once again in fine form, an unavoidable (and always exciting!) part of any Guatemalan celebration. It really wasn’t too bad this time, though, they virtually stopped setting them off from, oh, about 1:30am to 4am. That was a pretty sweet two and a half hours of sleep I tell ya.
After all that, on to Livingston via the amazing jungle-covered gorge surrounding the Rio Dulce river. Great scenery. Livingston is a complete 180 from the rest of Guatemala. It is a black Garifuna community which is entirely Caribbean and bears no similarity to the traditional Mayan towns we spent most of our time in to this point. The only thing lacking in the whole “Caribbean” thing – no beaches (at least none with more sand than garbage and seaweed). Generally a pretty friendly place, although an American guy we travelled upriver with said some kids at the beach filled a dirty condom with seawater and threw it at him, not exactly the welcome he’d been hoping for.
Other than that, got in a good night of Gallo-drinking last night with an Irish guy we’ve been crossing paths with ever since day one. Likely my last kick at the Gallo can, which is unfortunate, it’s definitely started to grow on me (and in me some days). Why is that, you ask – well, today we’re finally off to Honduras. Rather than spend another night here and try to get to the Bay Islands all in one day we’ve decided to spread it out over 2 days and spend a night at some little Honduran town. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Also, we hear that internet is difficult and expensive on the islands (long distance apparently) so this may be the last update until we get back (I can just hear the hearts breaking). Hope you’re all enjoying the frigid Saskatoon winter (that finally came, I was starting to get kind of choked) and we’ll talk to you soon.