After crossing into Guatemala from Belize, the anticipation of celebrating the end of the world (the end of the Mayan calendar) was only matched by the anticipation of meeting up with my sister who was driving down to celebrate with us. Bursting with excitement as we entered Guatemala, Tommy and I instantly noticed that Guatemala was as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than Belize, and only half as expensive. With so many vibrant colors swirling around the culture, from dress to produce, we couldn’t help but realize we were in a special place. The first evening, we drove to Las Flores to stock up on supplies and ended up stealth camping on the beautiful, albeit touristy island.
The next day we backtracked towards the Mayan ruins, Tikal. Since dogs were not allowed in the park we stayed nearby in the village of El Remate. The beauty of the lake that embraced the main part of town was beyond words. We set up camp next to said lake and waited for the arrival of my sister, Kelly, and her travel companions, the aspiring botanist, Beefy, and Skeeter the dog.
After connecting with Kelly, having unlimited card tournaments, and catching up on everything we had missed from back home, we outlined our plans for the Mayan celebration. At 3am the morning of, we drove into Tikal to watch the sunrise ceremony. The ruins were magnificent and the ceremonies were beautiful. We climbed to the top of a very tall pyramid and settled in to take in all the sites. After the sun rose, we wandered around the park in awe of the amazing beauty that surrounded us. We also happened to stumble across our friends, Sylvan and Nadia, who Tom and I met in Puerto Escondido. Around 3pm, we were all tired except for Tommy. All of us headed back to camp besides Tom, who happened upon a semi-private Mayan women’s ceremony.
During the women’s ceremony, a beautiful fox came towards the group. This is considered a good omen and the Mayan women and Tommy were all thrilled. While the purpose of the women’s ceremony was to thank the universe for all it provided, Tommy was able to connect to the feminine side within himself and nature. He came back to camp wanting a cheese and wine date with possible pedicures.
The next day, Kelly, Beefy, Sylvan, Nadia, Tom and I set out to reach Semuc Champey. Our caravan of overlanders attracted ample attention in the more remote areas of Guatemala. Not realizing just how bad the road conditions were going to be, we didn’t even come close to making it to Semuc Champey in one day. We pulled off on a dirt road with the hopes of discovering some privacy for all three vehicles, and only found small indigenous villages. The folks in the towns did not speak Spanish, they spoke their traditional language. (Much like Chiapas, Mexico, over 60% of people in Guatemala don’t actually speak Spanish, they speak their native language). Nadia had to draw pictures to ask if it was alright to camp in their village. After consulting with their chief, the townspeople welcomed us and allowed us to park in what looked like someone’s back yard. We “rounded up the wagons” and settled in for the evening.
The next day, we awoke to several curious people staring at us and our vehicles. We discovered that we were actually parked behind a cardamom drying hut. They grew cardamom on the hillside and sold it at local markets. The owner of the hut allowed us in and taught us about the cardamom drying process. Of course, each of us bought cardamom off this man, and we were all so grateful to have the opportunity to experience the beautiful culture of this village.
While the guys were pulling out seeds from the cardamom, Kelly, Nadia, and I wandered over to the nearby group of women. They spoke close to zero Spanish, so once again verbal communication was limited. Although we couldn’t converse with language, we were able to communicate with pantomime and body language. We snapped this shot of all the women together right before we left.
Although saddened to leave the village, we went on our merry way towards Semuc Champey. Nearly 60% of the roads in Guatemala are rough, dirt roads. This was no problem for our 4wd vehicle… or so we thought. We bypassed putting on the skid plate before leaving the US. Probably not the best call. As we drove towards Semuc, we hit a rock against our oil pan causing an oil leak. Luckily, Tommy had ‘The Rightstuff’… no not New Kids on the Block, but something even better- silicone used for engine gaskets. He was able to create a temporary fix with the help of Sylvan and Nadia who gave us plenty of oil to replenish what we lost.
Semuc Champey is a river beneath a river, one of the many gems of Guatemala. Having arrived just in time for Christmas, we all once again “rounded the wagons” and explored the beautiful pools. We celebrated Christmas with what little we had, putting out stockings, etc. Kelly surprised Tom and I with a slew of beautiful wedding and Christmas gifts and we made our step-mom’s traditional chile relleno dish that was very quickly devoured.
Guatemala, Part Two Coming Soon!