When the first cold finger of winter began pushing its way into Chicago last December, I said to my friend, “I’m sick of winter already. Do you want to go some place for spring break. I don’t care where as long as it’s warm.”
She said, “How about Guatemala?”
I said, “Sounds warm to me!”
And that is how it came to be that on the first day of spring, my friend and I headed to the “Land of Eternal Spring,” Guatemala.
Our first day was really just a travel day. We flew from Chicago to Dallas, and then from Dallas to Guatemala City. We had some time to kill between our two flights and my friend had day-long passes to the first-class lounge for American Airlines, so we ended up being able to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere (with free drinks!) in both ORD and DFW.
Unfortunately, our flight out of DFW to Guatemala was delayed due to rain, so we didn’t end up getting into Guatemala until about 8:00 their time, which would be 9:00 p.m. Chicago time. We’re all in the Central Time zone, but apparently they don’t do daylight savings here.
Getting to the hotel was very easy as our tour group had a driver waiting for us at the airport. It’s not a very big airport, so compared to O’Hare, it was nothing. Still, the dark night sky punctuated by city lights, the honking of passing cars, and the line-up of people waiting for loved ones was enough to wake me temporarily from the sleep that was threatening to overcome me.
Before long, we and our luggage were on a van with about eight other tour members. The ride to the hotel was no more than ten minutes. It’s a very nice hotel, I’m sure one of the best in the city. By American standards, we might say a few things like the hairdryer might not be the latest and greatest, yet my friend and I have both traveled enough to understand that this is a very, very nice hotel.
Our tour guide met us at the entrance and gave us a quick tour of the hotel, along with instructions for where to get our late dinner at the hotel and where to meet in the morning.
Here is what I had for dinner.
We had breakfast at 7:30 and then met our tour director for an orientation. A few words about our tour guide, whom we’ll call Veronica for the purposes of this blog. She is fabulous! She’s originally from Algeria and speaks at least four languages. She studied in France, was in the military for the Gulf War (but got injured during training and never fought), and then came to Guatemala about 25 years ago on a cultural mission. She loved the people so much that she never left! She is extremely animated and a great storyteller. Veronica has studied history and anthropology so she is very knowledgeable.
After our orientation meeting, she took us to Popul Vuh, one of the key museums in Guatemala City. If I had walked through Popul Vuh on my own, I don’t think I would have gotten half of what I got out of it with Veronica’s guidance. She told stories and gave explanations worthy of an anthropology class. I learned a lot about the Maya culture and how it developed over time. I’m sure she’ll be sharing much more of this in the coming days.
Right next door to Popol Vuh is a museum called Museo Ixchel, which displays the handmade textiles native to this land.
After the two museums, it was time to head back to the hotel for lunch. I ate a number of things, including rice, a little roasted chicken, some steak, grilled vegetables, and roasted potato. For dessert, I tried a cookie, a profiterole (filled with a yummy cream center), a baked apple, and then a piece of traditional Guatemalan candy. This last one would be the red ball you see in the photo. When I picked it up, I thought it would be some kind of jellied, fruit-based candy, but while it may have been fruit-based, it really just tasted like giant granules of sugar. I left most of it on the plate.
After lunch, we had a bus tour of Guatemala City. Unfortunately, there was a marathon scheduled for the afternoon, so the traffic was terrible and we didn’t get to see the Catedral Metropolitana or the Palacio Nacional de la Cultuura. If you’ve been with me since last year’s Speak, Pray, Cook tour of Rome, you know I like visiting churches so I was disappointed not to see the cathedral.
What is the city of Guatemala like? By American standards, it’s a dirty, mid-size kind of town with more than its fair share of slummy areas. However, it has several redeeming qualities. It has some of the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen.
The streets are far more tree-lined than we usually see in urban areas in the States.
Also of interest was the fact that St. John Paul II visited Guatemala three times, so they built a statue of him.
After our bus tour of the city, we headed back to the hotel where we had some time to visit the pool and jacuzzi before dinner.
An early start this morning since we had to travel most of the distance across Guatemala to reach the northern region of Peten, where the ruins of Tikal are. The ride involved a number of hairpin turns up and down the mountains so our tour guide Veronica drugged us all with dramamine. Well okay, it was offered, and she talked so often about how horrible it is to get sick on the bus that I took her up on her offer. While I found the mountains quite pretty, I also found all the trash along the highway quite surprising. Let’s just say Guatemala is in desperate need of an Adopt-a-Highway program.
On the way to Tikal, we stopped in Quirigua, our first visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quirigua is the site of Mayan ruins, including many stelae and statues depicting animal-human hybrids.
Then we headed to Rio Dulce for lunch. Now I was really feeling like I was on a tropical vacation. Check out this thatch-roofed restaurant along the river!
Tomorrow we visit the ancient ruins of Tikal. It is sure to be a packed day!
And for all you Star Wars fans, be prepared to be very jealous! If all goes well, I’ll be stopping by a spot made famous in the original Star Wars movie!