The heart of the Mayan world, Guatemala, is a beautiful land. The modern rhythm of life is penetrating this outpost of the Mayan culture and as a result is offering some advantages and drawbacks alike. The distinction between the indigenous people and the European heritage is a reality and present everywhere in Guatemala. As a result of that, today the Guatemalan society is divided in two, often leading to oppression with bloody conflicts.
My first stop in this diverse country was Antigua, the old capital and a world heritage protected city. After crossing the border, I made a quick visit to the capital, Guatemala City, a really dangerous place to wander around, especially after dark. Then I went to Antigua, the touristic alternative to the capital. I stayed for almost ten days there because I took classes in Spanish and managed to stay with a family for language practice. The city is small but definitely worth spending some time exploring the colonial architecture and the city vibe.
My next stop was the world wonder lake of Atitlan, a lake that has been created in the crater of an old volcano with its outskirts topped with more volcanoes from the surrounding mountains. On the lake shores there are hundreds of small Mayan settlements. I picked San Pedro de Attitlan, a small, forgotten village in the far north part of the lake. I had a young girl with me, a Canadian student. Too bad I can’t remember her name. We explored all the small settlements around the lake. San Marcos and Santa Cruz are definitely worth visiting.
The best though was yet to come. I wanted to know more about the Mayan culture so I took a long route through Guatemala’s hidden little gem villages and ended up in the traditional village and central market of Chichikastenago that opened a whole new world to my inexperienced eyes. Just interacting with the always smiling Mayans was an experience.
After that small cultural trip I ended up in Chemug Shampay. I’ll try to explain what that was exactly but you definitely have to see it. Chemug is the place where Rio San Juan disappears under the face of the earth into the ground. On its way it has curved in the soft rock groups of caves and underground riverbeds. I met a crazy American from Alaska and a guy from the Bask country in Spain and we went underground. It’s a definitely dangerous move to go under there but rewarding when you come out to the surface. Many thanks to the two crazy, brave travellers I had with me.
The adrenaline had reached its top so I took a decompression stop in Rio Dulce, the city at the beginning of a river trip through the lush tropical jungle. From there on and after following the river, I ended up in Livingstone.
Livingstone is the only city in Guatemala that has inhabitants of African heritage, castaways from the islands of the Caribbean and probably sons and daughters of runaway slaves. It’s a great escape for a while.
Suddenly and before heading to El Peten and the great Mayan ancient ruin city of Tikal, I was forced to stop my Guatemala trip for a very important personal reason. I left that part of Guatemala out but it’s definitely in my future plans.
With its tragic history of civil wars and the modern life difficulties, Guatemala remains a fascinating land that still is in my top of the list destinations. So long then. Until next time, Guatemala. And you can be sure that there will be a next time.