Once again, we crossed the border and were surprised by the immediate change of landscape. The meandering roads and treed hills dotted with homes and structures of Belize were in our rearview mirror and the gentle rolling hills of rural Guatemala were in front of us. The agriculture business was in full swing as we headed west. Approximately two hours after crossing into Guatemala, we arrived at our camp spot mid afternoon.
The ancient ruins of Tikal were our first tourist destination in Guatemala. After purchasing our tickets and parking the truck, we strolled into the park as unprepared for our day’s visit as our previous day’s border crossing. We turned down at least three people trying to sell us maps of the park, which we declined and immediately regretted as we made our way into the park. The ruins occupy a much larger area than the previous ruins we visited to this point and with dense jungle blocking our ability to use landmarks and we quickly thought we might get lost. Fortunately, we pushed forward and laid our eyes on the first spectacular plaza within the park.
The temples were different than others we have visited in that the Tikal temples had relatively smaller bases and very steep points near the top, where our previously visited temples had very large bases without a steep point at the top. Additionally, the jungle type vegetation in and around the entire site made the experience much different. We saw a spider monkey swinging through the trees above our heads and heard howler monkeys in the distance all day. Not more than four hours after entering the park, we conceded to the sauna like climate of Tikal and wandered back to the truck for some cold water and air conditioning.
Flores is a medium sized town southwest of Tikal we intended on passing through but fell in love with instantly. It is right on a large lake with an adorable island accessible by roads and bridges. We drove straight to the island, immediately headed down a one way street the wrong way and decided to park and explore by foot. A few hours later, we found a place to camp across from the island. We have been keeping a list of “must see” places when visiting certain areas and Flores is certainly on that list.
From Flores, we made a long drive day of about eight hours to Coban in central Guatemala. As we arrived, we were surprised by the lush green mountains and much more comfortable temperatures from the sweltering northeast region of the country. Our camp spot for the evening was a coffee plantation where we would take a tour the next morning. The temperature dropped down to a freezing 53 degrees and we needed a blanket for the first time in more than a month! The smell of the surrounding coffee plants permiated the camper and was a bit strange but wonderful at the same time.
Our coffee tour began shortly after 8am and our solely Spanish speaking tour guide, Lilliana, led the way. Working our way around the plantation, we learned about the coffee plant lifecycle, the conservation efforts made by the plantation and the processing and roasting process. The tour likely prepared us more for our two weeks of Spanish classes we would be taking in a few days than informed us about coffee but we enjoyed it anyways! The coffee at the end of the tour was pretty tasty, too.
The rain began to fall shortly after our coffee tour ended so our Coban adventure was cut short and we hit the road. Google Maps insisted that we take a route opposite the direct road to Chichicastenango and we realized why when we hit unmaintained, gravel roads ten miles from the edge of town. We decided to break up the drive into two days, so had plenty of time on our hands, but were tired when we arrived and Rancho Don Canche’s Restaurant three hours later.
Don Canche is a friendly man originally from Guatemala who opened a restaurant nearly nine months ago in between Coban and Chichicastenango and encourages travelers to park for free and enjoy some food or beer at his restaurant. We obliged this offer and decided if we were going to pay for a place to camp, we might as well get some food out of the deal. We had a great chat with him and the children waiting for their mother to finish cooking at the restaurant for the evening. The children gave us a great chance to practice our Spanish. They swarmed Laughlin as she began showing them photos of our travels and reminded us of how blessed we are to be able to travel.
Chichicastenango was a slow four hour drive beyond Don Canche’s Restaurant where we met up with friends we knew before departing on our trip. Laughlin visited Guatemala for a dental mission trip three years earlier and kept in touch with Andy and Theresa who live in Chichi. We met Andy at the church near the center of town then we hopped in his van and ended up at his cousin’s wedding reception. We weren’t dressed for the occasion but everyone was welcoming and the cake and tea tasted great!
Theresa took us to the Sunday market only a few blocks from their home first thing in the morning. Anything one might need could be purchased at the market. Food, clothing, tools, pottery, etc. filled the streets we drove through the previous night. The colorful traditional clothing was around every corner. Our eyes were constantly bouncing from one side of the street to the next and after a couple hours, the crowds, smells and sounds were beginning to become overwhelming!
Our home in Chichi for two nights:
Andy really liked the Dodge so had to take it for a quick spin before we left!
We will call Antigua home as we take Spanish lessons for the next two weeks. Check back soon for our writeup!