The last of the Honduras route was very scenic with dry mountains and lush green valleys. We stopped just outside Copan Ruinas to have a breakfast of leftover calzone - delicious. We were at the ruins by 08h15. We bought the tickets for the ruins at $10 each. We decided to wait a while for some other English-speaking people to arrive to see if they wanted to share the $20 fee for a guide. Three Canadians arrived shortly and we joined together.
Our guide, Juan spoke excellent English and he told quite a few interesting things that we hadn't gleaned from the guide book. The ruins themselves were quite impressive and the carvings were very intricate and told intriguing stories. This one for instance had cared skulls and was the place where sacrifices and self-mutilation took place.
A lot more is known about the Mayan culture than the Incas, despite the Mayan being an older civilization. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that they used hieroglyphics, a good example of which is the great hieroglyphic stairway. What we liked about the ruins is that they have not been over excavated and they have hung on to their element of mystery. It is also natural looking, with an abundance of plant life and lots of trees with their enormous, thick, gnarled roots force their way through the stones and rubble. The macaws at the entrance also held a certain appeal.
We met the American RV gang again, which was really nice and we're hoping we might catch up with them again in Tikal. After strolling around the ruins on our own for a while we went to the museum ($5 per person). It is light and airy and the recovered stonework and other pieces are well presented. The main feature in the centre of the museum is a life-size replica of the Rosalila Temple which was discovered by archaeologists when they were excavating tunnels below the existing ruins.
The Rosalila was apparently of such sacred importance that they did not destroy it, but instead chose to build on top of it. Below it, is yet another temple 150 years older, called Margarita.
Just as we were about to leave two Colombians came to chat with us. They were really pleased we'd been to visit their country and asked us all about Nyathi, our trip etc. They were very enthusiastic and took lots of photos of us with Nyathi, them with Nyathi...
The border was just 10km from the ruins so we got there by 15h00. The exit formalities were fast and of course we had to pay another $1 each for immigration stamps. The Guatemalan side was much simpler and less expensive than both Honduras and Nicaragua and the people were just as friendly as usual. We paid $3 (each) tourist entrance fee and $5 vehicle import fee.
The roads were good from the border all the way to the outskirts of Guatemala City where we stopped and filled up with fuel at an excellent Esso garage with a mini restaurant and plenty of space in their big, new truck-port to park the car for the night. We had a hotdog for dinner, read our books and then went to bed.
The traffic was a challenge this morning. The motorway was bumper-to-bumper for miles and we saw lots of local drivers turning around to find alternative routes and we did the same. We drove through the untidy residential areas and made a big loop to join the motorway further down. By a great stroke of luck, more than judgement, we managed to bypass the traffic problems completely. We stopped at a small shopping complex where we bought some groceries, went to the internet cafe and then bought hot bread from the oven - delicious!
The road to Antigua was well paved travelling through some lovely countryside and winding through the hills. We spent the afternoon looking for accommodation with parking big enough for Nyathi, which was no mean feat. However, the town is beautiful with well preserved colonial buildings and lots of gorgeous garden and courtyards bursting with colour, so it made the searc a pleasant one. We settled on Hotel Casa Santa Lucia opposite the market (100 quetzales = $12) and its sister hotel about 300m down the road had ample space for us to park Nyathi (two nights for 50 quetzales = $7). The hotel was a quaint old building with lots of woodwork and our very clean room had two beds and a private bathroom with hot water from 06h00 - 09h00 and 18h00 - 21h00.
Michael's ear infection was back, and a bit painful, so we relaxed in the room for an hour and then went out for the evening. The lighting in the town isn't great, but it lends a warm, gentle atmosphere which is well suited to th town. There was live music being played in the yard of an old church and a crowd of about 200 people watching, which made for a nice vibe.
We wandered around the handicraft market which very relaxed and had an astonishing array of craft from traditional clothing and tableware, to bizarre carved masks and knitted toys. We ate dinner at a British-styled pub, mostly frequented by locals. We had an enormous plate of nachos for 38 quetzales ($5) and Michael had a litre of Sol and I two sex-on-the-beach cocktails (2 for 1).
We both slept well, but Michael's ear is still painful. We read a little in the morning and then went to the laundromat. I went and bought tickets for Volcan Pacaya and then while the washing was in the drier we went to the Rainbow Reading Room to look at their books. They had a wide variety, but were very expensive - think we'll rather swap at our hotel 1 for 1!
After folding the washing we went for a quick lunch of soup and nachos and raced back to the hotel to put on our hiking gear. It was the normal hurry up and wait scenario and while we were waiting we were convinced by some boys to have a shoeshine rapido. It was the worst shoeshine we've had, plus they tried to quadruple the price. We paid them 5 quetzal and ran to catch the now waiting bus!
Our bus driver certainly didn't spare the horses not even on the sharp bends, it was a little hair raising to ay the least. Our group comprised four French guys, three American guys and us. We collected our guide, Rodolfo about ten minutes before we reached the visitor's centre where we paid the 25 quetzales ($4) entrance fee each. After walking the first stretch which was quite steep I decided to relent to the local boys who were offering horse 'taxi services' and I rode one to the base of the crater. I am really glad I did because I could relax and take in the views, although I felt rather sorry for my horse who was clearly breathing heavily and I could feel his heart beating through the saddle when we stopped to rest every now and again!
The last stretch was hard going. The volcanic rock was like loose scree so for every step you took, you lost a little too. The incline was 35 degrees and the wind was blowing gale force. It was lifting small pieces of volcanic rock and sand and whipping them into us.
It was hard to stand upright against the icy wind so we were bending into it trying to make ourselves as small as possible. About 50 metres below the crater lip we sought refuge behind some big rocks and rested for a while. We could feel the hot earth and rocks which helped to warm us up a little. The last short ascent was unbelievably windy and I nearly got blown over a number of times.
It was hard to see into the crater, but the strong sulphurous fumes told us we were there. Every now and again the fearsome wind blew the clouds away, but of course more swept in straight afterwards. It was a bit disappointing not see any molten lava bubbling away, but the challenge in getting there made it feel worthwhile.
The descent was much quicker with a slow run while digging our heels in the best way to negotiate the loose volcanic rock. Michael's ear certainly wasn't helped by the fierce icy wind, but as usual he didn't complain. The rest of the walk down was swift and enjoyable. We chatted to the French guys about travel and all sorts of things and I got to practice my French a little again. I still cannot beleive how atrocious it is since I have been speaking Spanish for the last five months. I can still understand everything, but speaking is another story! We got to see the peaks of another three volcanoes too...
The bus ride back was more subdued, with everyone feeling a bit battered by the elements. We arrived back in town at 20h00 and told Fabien that if he wanted a lift to Tikal, he should contact us in the morning. We went back to the hotel and had terrific hot showers. All our exposed parts were filthy with volcanic dust and our clothes engrained, not to mention the small collection of rocks which came out of our boots.
We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in bed reading and nibbling on a few snacks.
We had a leisurely wake up, reading in bed until 08h00. There was a very noisy and musically untalented bunch of people outside who were taking it in turns to sing, which was reverberating around the hotel, but we didn't have the heart to be annoyed with them because it accompanied a soup kitchen for the poor. Still, they really ought to just give the people the food instead of torturing them with the entertainment!
We packed up our kit and went for a shower and then wandered over to Nyathi. Fabien hadn't arrived yet so we told them that if he came along he should meet us at the Rainbow Cafe. We had a tasty breakfast (I had omelette served with fruit salad on the same plate - bizarre, and Michael had fried eggs, bacon etc.) Fabien stopped by and said he'd like a lift so we arranged to meet at Nyathi at 11h30. We went on the internet briefly and I got a fabulous letter from Ange. She has asked me to be a witness for her at the wedding (which is a very important honour in the Christian Community Church). I almost cried in the internet cafe and spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how I could make it back to Cape Town in November for the wedding.
The trip to Rio Dulce took us through some beautiful tropical landscapes with lots of rich jungle vegetation, sadly interspersed with crop lands and tree cleared areas spots. We stopped on the bridge over the Rio Dulce to look down on the lovely little small boat quays and the lush vegetation dripping into the water.
We went to Hacienda Tijax which is in the most spectacular setting on the river, but is let down by its less than enthusiastic staff and high prices for rooms and food (3 times more than quoted in LP). Nevertheless we chose to camp in the parking area (20 quetzales - $3 each) which is behind the 'resort' and is accessed through the forest by a fantastic labyrinth of swing walkways suspended just above the swampy ground and waterways. We ate dinner with the rain pouring down around us and the insects calls making background music.
We offered for Fabien to sleep on the 'Togo bed' behind our seats in Nyathi, to save him paying the room fee on which they would not negotiate. So he bedded down there for the night, which was fine, but means if we have to get up in the night it's a hassle to get in and out.
Up early to the sounds of the forest - monkey screams, frogs and myriad bird calls (some of which are rather jarring)! We took it in turns to shower in the campsite at the hacienda entrance and then headed north for Poptun where we decided to stop for breakfast.
Finca Ixobel's was a wonderful place. Extremely well organised with friendly staff and big nature-friendly grounds. We had a delicious breakfast of ham, cheese, onion and tomato omelettes with toast and then Michael had two freshly baked cinnamon buns too. Plus, we bought a fresh banana bread for the road. Flor (one of the volunteers) showed us around and we really wished we had made it here last night, but we may return after Tikal...
En route to Tikal we stopped briefly at El Remate where the lake is crystal blue, but the edges are a very soft, clay mud which loves to suck you down, so we kept our distance a little.
We arrived at the Tikal Park entrance at 14h40 and they gave us tickets valid for both today and tomorrow, so we were hoping to see both the sunset and sunrise from the top of one of the ruins. Along the roads they had lots of signs warning against various animals and we think this is the closest we'll ever get to a jaguar in the wild...
The heavy rains which poured down at 16h00 put paid to our afternoon visit to the ruins, so Michael went for a sleep and I sat in the cab with Fabien and we both read books.
We went to Comedor Imperio Mayo for dinner which was quite tasty, filling and good value. Fabien came and collected his stuff from Nyathi as he was staying in a dorm at Jaguar Inn for the night. We were thinking of camping there for the same price as the municipal camping (25 quetzales - US$3 each), but opted for the slightly quieter more remote option. We optimistically set our alarm for 05h30, ready for a dawn watch from Temple V...
We loved these roads signs! Beware of jaguars, coatis, snakes and wild turkeys.