Finally we wrestle free from El Peten.
18th of December we leave Flores, El Peten.
Late in the year...
Late in the day...
El Peten is ungovernable, I forgot who would say that and it obviously refers to the previous story (El Mirador, if you have not read it).
It's my birthday on Lake Isabal, we visit Maya Quirigua.
When after a rainy day sun just glances out under dark cumulus, I try the old 17-35mm and am aware how close we are from the Belize border, but the lens is pointed away from Belize towards east, i.e. sunset.
Morning the 19th, we drive via the huge bridge and Fronteras which is commonly referred to by the name Río Dulce, to Maya Quiriguá (wiki), its location at the junction of several trade routes made it strive during the classical period (until 800 A.D.), and the tallest stone monuments (stelae) ever erected in the New World tell the tales.
Then we look towards flat and hazy Lake Izabal (wiki), we find beers and ceviche in Marisco village, it's my birthday and we are almost at sea level.
We meet Sofia and family next day, so kindly she take us over to her house in a side arm of Río Dulce where time is best spent in a hammock watching birds.
We do what we must do, go on a tourist cruise down the Río to Livingston, join the nervous armpits and bad perfumes, and we have not even left and they get a fit. Their true class bursts open when it happens that the 13 year old Guatemalan boy spills a few drops of gasoline on them, the poor has to work despite his age, is of course a bit unfamiliar in handling the filler at the gas-station. A young Frenchman two seats in front barks it out Putain j'hallucine! and the German, red faced, one row in front screams Scheisskerl while raises his fist, I get my drops too, but hey guys this is a nice day; why are those on a holiday always the most unrelaxed?
Well my Dukkha is being crammed in one small boat with these idiots, but the Buddha says to take it with a smile which is easy in light of the Río Dulce and El Golfete nature reserve who seek yet comparison, a lake and river and canyon at once with abundant bird life and wild flowers.
Livingston and a Garifuna setting the record straight.
The cliffs of the gorge let us go, spill us out onto the open Caribbean Sea, past rusty structures full of cormorants, pelicans and gulls our tourist lancha docks on the Livingston pier. What can we do in two hours? We meet a man who tells a lot of lies, but also wise tales about Garifuna, Rastafarian and Evangelicals. He sets the record straight, Garifuna (wiki) are neither Caribs, nor Africans, but a people on their own with a language of their own. Caught up in the wars between the British and French over some eastern Islands of the West Indies/Caribbean the British in a genocide attempt in 1797 decided to deport all Garifuna to Roatán, off Honduras, or sent them out on boats, it is understood that a mere quarter of the total population survived, some 2,500 who after striking a deal with the Spanish settled along the coast, working on plantations.
Our friend tells us how today's Livingston is being crowded in by Latinos who take away the business opportunities and lands, Latinos out number Garifuna 4:1. "There is no land to plough, nowhere to go, no way to feed ourselves". As a boy he was sent to school in Punta Gorda, Belize, now you need a lot of money/paperwork to cross borders. We give him some money for his 'feeding project' and he is gone. Livingston is forgotten and I - obviously forgot who said that.
That night we are back at Sofia's and C. is sick of food poisoning, her burrito earlier at Mario's Marine looked shit. I did not want to spoil her experience as my burger was fine, a lot of Chili helped disguise the taste and down the damn thing. Already after dark when she cramps in agony I tell her to lean forward over the wooden landing stage in the dark of the side arm of Río Dulce, I grab the back of her neck with one hand then stick two fingers of my other hand deep inside her throat, one second, two seconds, then C. throws up the cheese and all in a big stream, she pukes the way everyone pukes and she believes no more it would not work for her. The fish love it, processed poison is better for them, C. is pain free almost immediately after and we fall into a deep moist slumber to the sounds of the jungle, it is is almost Christmas.
After an all day curvy drive hopping in a line of trucks over the potholes we hug Sofia good bye in Guatemala City and go on to Antigua (wiki). Guate City, after all of Sofia's stories of motorcyclists that rob and robbed her with guns, is not where we want to hang. The colonial city of Antigua with its tourists and tourist police, restaurants and silly season parties rather fits 'our' silly season mood. The volcanos around are near, but Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, of which only Fuego meaning fire remains active rest almost always under cloud cover. Just one morning after Christmas and very early I am out I get to see the water volcano's top and Fuego let's a steam cloud fly, when 30 minutes later I sip my coffee the skies are overcast again.
Central Antigua's side streets around the cathedral plaza are dark and quiet once the music stops in the travelers' drinking dungeons, this is where we park and sleep but change our location every night or even twice in some nights when we discover we are the only vehicle left at 3 in the morning. Guatemala seemed so very safe all these past 5 weeks but I am rethinking, my senses on alert and listening to some recent stories make us do so; some tourist we started talking was robbed at gun point in these, Antigua's streets, our waitress Sandra's husband was shot dead when delivering electronic equipment; there is another sad story everywhere we go, we are rightly alert, not afraid.
28th of December and it has been overdue for a while we head for those Guatemalan Pacific beaches around Monterrico and El Hawaii where the pink pigs roam free and go in the ocean because the days are to hot for them. When Antigua was working the pages, these are a couple of days reading García Márquez's memoirs, eating cheap fried fish with my feet in the dirt and listen to some weird stories that our beach bar owners can give away about even weirder people who lived here.
This Peruvian German who volunteered for the turtles project sticks out: "He hated it here," tells us our patron "so really vulgar he would fight with everybody, sometimes hit my table and shout 'where is my food'," he sighs. "One day he started running around the house naked, forced everybody to see his thing, the Australian woman that worked with him got scared and I had to run after him with a stick, so he kept his clothes on." … "Also at the time his mother used to call me – daily, and she asked whether he is seeing somebody," he smiles wryly now, "I told her that I see some woman around him sometimes, so his mother told me that she had given him a pack of condoms and that now I should make sure that he uses them," now the old man laughs, after all theses years this is still such a good story for him, "we around here don't talk to our young about such intimate issues." He pauses, searches in the back of his memories, "So people brought him the turtle eggs they found, he would then just leave them to die, told them he was here to have a good time... when he left he kissed the dirt ground in front of the people, screamed and thanked God that he could leave this miserable place."
Yes out here these beaches can feel far-out and lonely, golden-black volcanic with superb sunsets and the distinct rural ordure; if you're able to look away from the trash that piles up and if you don't mind the burnt plastic smell at nights you might like them, otherwise lose your sanity. We enjoyed not seeing a tourist for a few days, just then - even in these remote place every Coke delivery truck is accompanied by a pump gun slinging guard, while we, to the contrary still feel safe - to a certain degree. The rule learnt over the years is you stay in a place as long as it feels alright and once the secure feeling fades away, leave. The clever daughter from the house starts increasing the prices for us, tourists, and we leave on the 31st of December and our weighy truck swings the flat ferry round every time we pass another boat on the mangrove lagoon from Monterrico to La Avellana, later we enter El Salvador and this is another story.