Monday, July 28, 2008


Saturday was Cristie´s birthday, and we set off for Tikal in the morning (our 9:00 minibus was only about half an hour late). When we arrived we found the camping area, a grassy field with a series of wall-less thatched huts around the edges. We found the person in charge, a wonderful man named Gonzalo, who strung up hammocks for us, complete with built-in mosquito nets (a very neccessary addition). Sleeping in a hammock surrounded by Guatemalan jungle is a pretty cool experience. The stars were amazing, the bugs serenaded us all night, the howler monkeys started up around 3:00 a.m., and the birds around 4:00 a.m. There were ocellated turkeys wandering around the field in the afternoon -- they´re sort of like turkeys trying to be peacocks. We also saw pisotes, or coatis, funny-looking anteaters with pointy snouts and long monkey-like tails, that climbed trees and ran around on the ground. At one point we came across an entire herd of them - about 30 in all, complete with a bunch of young ones. There was also a funny jungle guinea pig called a sereque (I have no idea if that´s how you spell it) that ran around looking for trash. Its hind end looked like a capybara´s, but its head looked like a giant rat´s. I love seeing new animals. :D

We discovered that the price of admission to the ruins has gone up significantly since the time my guidebook was published (from $6.75 to about $22 per day), but that if we bought tickets after 4:00 p.m., they were good for the rest of the day (until 6:00) and also for the next day. So we visited museums and wandered around and napped for a few hours, then bought our tickets at 4:00 and took our first hike in to see the ruins.

I don´t know that it is possible to convey an impression of the Tikal ruins in words if the reader hasn´t been there. Any photos you may have seen do not do them justice, and words like "impressive" or "amazing" or "magnificent" just seem like understatements. The ruins are all of this and more. We were a bit surprised at the extent to which people are allowed to just climb all over the pyramids, but at the same time, it was incredible to climb up and sit at the tops of the temples and look out over the jungle, seeing the tops of other temples looming up out of the trees, listening to the birds and the howler monkeys. Some of the temples we could just climb straight up the steps -- very very steep steps -- and others had staircases constructed along the sides to get tourists to the top. The staircase up Templo V was almost as steep as a ladder, and had 105 steps. Going up was easy, going down not so fun.

We discovered that a lot of the most interesting places were around the back of the structures, where we found all sorts of chambers and passageways and staircases. One of our favorite places (which we found on Sunday) was the Palacio de las Acanaladuras, where we found a bunch of bats in a number of the chambers. While we were exploring it, a Guatemalan gentleman walked up, and recognized us from our trip to the museum the day before (he had asked if we were sisters, commenting that we had similar noses, and we told him we´re cousins). He told us that the Palacio had been a sort of Mayan monastary, and pointed out the separate chambers at the back for men and women, and told us that there was a space around the back that was used for massage and other healing arts. He told us that he was a traditional Mayan priest, and so he enjoys walking around the ruins. Apparently Saturday had been a major Mayan holiday, and he had been in there performing ceremonies.

We hiked around for 2 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday (not counting the time we spent coming out of the park for lunch, complete with enormous and very welcome glasses of limonada), and still didn´t see everything there was to see. We climbed a LOT of stairs, took a LOT of photos and a few videos (which I will attempt to post on Flickr soon, when I actually have my memory card reader with me at an internet cafe), and met a bunch of nice people. I am really glad that I went to English Week right before this trip, and got my legs nice and strong, because I´m not sore at all today.

There is much more to write about Tikal, but I don´t have my journal with me and I´m running out of time, so it will have to wait. I´ll post photos and videos when I can. :)

ATM Adventures

Where to start? Cristie and I have been in Guatemala for only 3 days, and it feels like we´ve been here a month. Today is a mellow day, because we´ve been doing a lot of running around the last several days. The two main goals we set for ourselves today were to get cash and to make our way 100 km south to La Finca Ixobel, our next stop.

Getting cash has proven to be a much more arduous task than either of us expected. We figured we´d be landing in an international airport in a large Central American city, so we´d have no problem finding an ATM. Well, the one ATM in the airport was broken. Fortunately, the taxi drivers accepted US dollars (the person from our hostel who was supposed to pick us up never showed up), and our hostel also accepted dollars, so we didn´t have to go in search of quetzales (the Guatemalan currency) until the morning. That first morning (Friday), we walked around the neighborhood trying various ATMS -- we broke one, which completely shut down and rebooted on Windows XP, which cracked us up -- until we finally found one that both functioned and accepted MasterCard debit cards. (We realized that we use the same bank and have the same debit and credit cards, so we´re kind of in a fix if they don´t work...)

That first ATM escapade lasted about 45 minutes. This morning we set off on another, since we´re not likely to be able to get cash anywhere in the next several days. We stayed last night in Flores, a small island in the middle of a small lake, connected to the town of Santa Elena by a 2-lane causeway. There is one ATM on the island, and it was not functioning this morning, so we walked across the causeway to Santa Elena in search of another. The first one we found didn´t work either, but a nice gentleman (who also needed cash) led the way to La Despensa Familiar, an all-purpose grocery store that had an ATM. He tried it first and said it didn´t work, but we saw somebody else extracting cash from it a few minutes later, so we tried and succeeded in securing enough cash to last us a while. I think we were lucky that it only took three tries! We´re beginning to realize that we´re going to have to plan our ATM trips in advance, and allow plenty of time for them! :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Adventure Begins

I'm off to Guatemala today! Cristie and I will head first to Tikal, to celebrate her birthday on Saturday (happy birthday, Cristie!), and then wander happily around the rest of the country for a few weeks. After she leaves, I'll take some Spanish lessons in the Western Highlands, and then see where life leads me. I'll post when I can! :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

English Week

Due to time constraints (I fly to Guatemala in 17 hours!), I'm not posting a great deal about English Week. The quick rundown of highlights (and lowlights):

- Doing 3/4 of a backflip in the meadow during the Scottish Highland Games on Monday afternoon. (AKA, a backflipflop.) Many factors were involved, including mismatched shoulder heights, a potato, and a pair of pantyhose. We won't get into the details. A few days later, kind folks remarked that the scrapes all around my left eye gave me a "rakish" look. I went to Dr. Shawn, Mom and Graham's chiropractor, when I got back. He managed to adjust my neck, but was stymied by my mid-back, and told me to come in again before I left for a free session where he'd try again. I went back today, where he poked and prodded and proclaimed that my neck was composed of rebar, but managed to yank on it in such a way that my mid-back finally sorted itself out.

- Learning a really cool Scottish hard shoe step dance, that resulted in my calves being better defined than I think they've ever been (it's about 4 1/2 minutes of being up on one's toes, with stepping and hopping and "deedle-deedles" throughout).

- Going into Mendocino and taking over a sidestreet to dance in town for part of an afternoon. We had learned a 3-person reel in the border morris class, and had been practicing it with three sets in a small hall, but when Dave and Jonathan and I danced it in town we took up about half a block - it was excellent.

- Lots of lovely evening dances, and fun after-parties. I think I managed about 6-7 hours of sleep a night (I had a 7 am chore to wake up for), which was just enough to get me through. No time for naps, though - too many fun things to do!

- And, possibly the coolest moment - Jonathan and I made up a two person rapper dance skit and performed it at the back porch gathering on Friday afternoon. We were very proud of ourselves. Video below:

Now I'm all inspired to dance more, and to come back to Portland and dance with Iron Mountain Sword again, so Jonathan and I can work up the double front flip. :P

But for now, another adventure calls... back to packing!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Take Now

There was a moment full of Time
when I gazed into the ocean of my own eyes
and saw Forever staring back at me -
Now is my chance, Now
I must take it.