Well the journey from Lanquin to Flores was only 250km and we were going by shuttle and being picked up at 8 so we’re hoping to be there at around lunchtime. No unfortunately the horror stories of transit in Guatemala continues and we eventually got dropped off at 6pm!! I have a feeling that the guys we met further south who decided to by pass Guatemala might have had some information that they didn’t share with us!
At this stage we were both a bit over Guatemala and those we were meeting on the shuttles were feeling the same too. There was a sense of gloom and despondency that so much time and money was being spent on travelling relatively short distances. In fact we were already pretty excited about leaving Guatemala and moving on.
We had two last nights and one last day to enjoy and we were still managing to get excited about the prospect of visiting Tikal which was meant to be spectacular. We had been told that sunrise was the thing to see in Tikal so even though we were a bit knackered we signed up for a tour departing at 3am the next morning!!
We treated ourselves to a some delicious cerviche and fish tacos and tried to get some sleep before our early rise.
The 2:45 am alarm came around pretty quickly but we were genuinely excited about the prospect of seeing the sun rise over Tikal. We hopped in the bus and said hello to all the others we had now got to know who were all following on similar Gringo trails through Guatemala. We were meant to be in a group with a guide of 8-10 max but there were 30 of us. No longer a surprise to any of us and there was much joking amongst the group as to how the locals had scammed us once again! (Not sure how this is going to work out for their tourist industry long term)
Anyway none of us were bothered or surprised and we all followed our guide on a rapid hike to the far side of the park. Sarah and I were really getting excited as we had caught glimpses of stars in the sky as we began the journey so were expecting a clear night. We climbed up the 196 steps to the top of one of the temples and all sat down facing east to await the sun coming up.  
The fog set in and we didn’t see one ray of sunshine.
Still it did give the place a mystical air and the views of the temples across the jungle was impressive.
We then all descended and began the tour. 30 people to one guide was a few too many and a lot soon lost interest but the guy tried his hardest and although a lot of what he told us was a repeat of what we had heard in Copan it was still good to have him explain the bits and bobs about what we were seeing here.
The tour didn’t start off too impressively as he walked us through the jungle passing mounds of earth under which were I excavated temples. Not overly impressive. We eventually arrived at the main square which to be fair was very impressive and that was where the tour ended.
The temples in the main square were quite something to behold but they were lacking the interesting artful carvings which we had seen in Copan. It was at this point that we both gave ourselves a high five for making the effort to get to Copan as we only really realised now how impressive it really was. It’s difficult when you see the best first but it’s still great to see Tikal too.  
It was really nice walking around the jungle in the early morning and coming across these quite wonderful temples. It’s something I have seen a lot of in pictures but is certainly quite awesome to see in real life.
We finished the morning sitting in the shade under a tree in the main square just taking it all in.
For the afternoon we went for a very short walk around the island of Flores which was quite cute but ultimately very touristy and then collapsed in a heap exhausted. T

The sight greeting us when we got to the top of the temple just before dawn was pretty impressive.

Umm we think this is the moment the sun rose!

Some of the glimpses of the temples through the forest are fantastic.

This temple has been built upon another temple, in fact they built another temple every 51 years (a human lifespan) right on top of the previous temple.

Great to see a fully excavated temple.

One of the local howler monkeys looking on.  The sounds of them waking up in the morning were amazing.

There were a few of these temples scattered around the forest.  When they were in their prime there wouldn’t have been any forest here at all the whole area would have been used for housing and farming. 

This temple was only half excavated and when I asked the guide why more wasn’t being excavated he said that the view was that one example of each temple was enough.

The Agouti of Tikal.  These gather in families of up to 60 in size.

The main temples of the main plaza really spectacular.

The view we had for our well deserved lunch when we got back to Flores.

Another little village with beautifully coloured houses.  Every time I see it though I think it’s great.

Semuc Champey

Well we wished we had allocated more time to Honduras but unfortunately we had to leave and had decided to try and see two more sights in Guatemala before getting out for a few days in Belize and then trying to get a week in the south east of Mexico. We had a decision to make between going to Semuc Champey or Rio Dulce on our way up to Tikal.
It was pretty much a 50:50 call and we decided on Semuc. So it was back on the (now notorious) Guatemalan shuttle bus system. 350km to travel in a day, shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive!! Well it was both. We ended up arriving at our destination at 1am having enjoyed waiting outside a restaurant in the middle of nowhere for 3 hours for a shuttle connection (the three armed guards outside the restaurant made us think that we mightn’t be in the best place) and then the bus was packed so we ended up in the front seat for the last six hours!  
We arrived in a village called Lanquin at 1am and realised straight away that we had arrived somewhere a little different. There were no paved roads and we were a little worried that we didn’t really know where our hostel was. Luckily there were a bunch of guys waiting with 4wd trucks all shouting the names of various hostels. After everyone got themselves sorted we were off to our place.
All the accommodation options were fairly expensive (comparatively) so we were pleasantly surprised that the place was actually quite nice!! We were all staying in huts spread out along a hill next to a river with a big open air central restaurant. It all looked very nice and relaxing and we had a half a thought to stay longer.
There were loads of tours on offer but the main attraction here was Semuc Champey so we just opted to get a shuttle and do the explorations ourselves.
After having spent so long getting here we were both hoping that the effort was going to be worth it…and it was!! The place was spectacularly beautiful.
Although it looks like a series of crystal clear pools with a waterfall cascading through them it’s actually a limestone bridge. The river flows underneath but has left a quite spectacular roof. We spent the day lounging in the crystal clear waters while the fish nibbled at our feet. The only breaks we took were to go for a walk up one of the hillsides for a view over the pools and another trip to grab a bite to eat.
All in all a great day, well worth the effort.
That night after waiting a couple of hours for the shuttle back we met up with Bill and Emma for a last drink and catch up which was nice but another couple we will be catching up with again I am sure!! T

Not a bad little spot to be staying in.

Our first glimpses of the crystal clear waters of the pools in Semuc.

Just one of the waterfalls cascading down the bridge.

That split second before the tranquility is destroyed!

The local fish devouring what was left of my parasite!

Just wonderful sat enjoying the clear waters and the many pools.

It really is a beautiful place.

Half in and half out.  I have said it before but the clarity of the water had to be seen to be believed.

The river which has caused this formation.  You can see the start of the pools on the right and where the river has carved its way underground on the left.  Effectively it tunnels all the way under the pools we are swimming in.

The path through the forest up to the mirador.

The view from up top is pretty special too.  It’s not too obvious but it is actually a bridge.  The river burrows under from top left to bottom right.  Either way the result is some spectacular swimming.

Difficult to wipe the smiles off of our faces today.

This is one of the most unusual flowers we have seen.

Chichi Markets

We were off to another local market about 2 hours away today. We caught a shuttle there and I must admit the road from San Marcos to the town on the other side of the mountain was one of the worst we have ever been on and it wasn’t even dirt! The pot holes in the road could have nearly swallowed a car. 
The market itself was huge! A mix of artisan crafts and then markets for the locals but it all kind of mixed into each other. So one minute you were looking at beautiful tapestries and then you were wandering around a fruit market. We even saw an indigenous lady selling something that involved a dead snake. Maybe the healing power of snake venom?? Not sure what it was but it was entertaining. The clothing that the indigenous ladies and men wore were fantastic. The ladies had these amazingly embroidered blouses tucked into patterned skirts coupled with embroidered belts. 
Another positive is that our bartering skills have improved no end. Especially since we know that they definitely start at least double the price. We managed (mostly Tim) to purchase a wool blanket for just over a quarter of starting price. Winning. Except for the fact that we had to then purchase another bag to carry the blanket. But can’t complain really as the quality of goods here were really top notch.
The tiring part of the market was the street hawkers. You would be looking at a stall and they would tap you on the shoulder and try and sell you a tapestry or flute etc. For some reason they would gravitate towards Tim and harras him. The three of us would all say no thankyou and turn away and they wouldn’t hassle us any more. But they would chase Tim down the street. It was pretty hilarious. We even had a lady selling him tapestries right up until we shut the shuttle bus door. 
Once back it was decided to frequent the curry house again as the other three have all been deprived of their weekly curry for so long we had to have two in three days. Didn’t bother me as they were delish. S

One of the fruit markets. This one in a basketball court. You can see all the ladies wearing their traditional dress.

The snake catcher/voodoo lady.

As you can see the indigenous population here are tiny! It was great just standing there listening to them speak in their native tongue. 

Then in the middle of it all you stumble across this church. 

This church was at the other end of the market but for some reason the steps were also used as stalls for the market. 

San Marcos at Lake Atitlan 

From Antigua we planned to head to Lago de Atitlan not really knowing what to expect other than the fact that it had been described as stunningly beautiful. So sounded pretty good.
The sun was almost out in Antigua so we decided to spend our last few hours wandering around admiring the beauty of the place. Unfortunately the chicken buses were going to take too long to get to San Marcos so we went by shuttle instead.
It felt as though we were all on the bus and heading into the unknown and the 2 hour journey to the lake took us through some stunning scenery. The whole area is dominated by volcanoes of various degrees of activeness and it actually got quite cool as we ascended to over 2000m above sea level.
Our first glimpses of the lake were quite impressive. It’s about 20km in diameter and surrounded by volcanoes all covered in lush green forests. There are a number little towns around the lake and we were dropped off at one of the bigger ones where we had to catch a boat to San Marcos.
It took us a while to find the public ferry and on the way down some local boat captains were doing their upmost to try and get us to catch their boats for ten times the price. They were using some quite underhand tactics but we managed to avoid getting conned and were soon on the boat cruising across one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever seen!
The area and San Marcos in particular has been inhabited by hippies who believe in a special spiritual nature to the place. While a lot of the other towns have been invaded by the backpackers, San Marcos has retained its hippie roots.  
From the dock on arrival we walked up a narrow path through a hodgepodge of houses to our hostel. All the way we could see signs for yoga, meditation and a whole host of other alternative and spiritually enhancing activities. Needless to say there was a calm about the place which was quite infectious and Sarah and I were quite happy with our decision to come here.
Our first night was nice and relaxing and we enjoyed a curry at one of the local restaurants, owned obviously by an Englishman. The next day Sarah got up and went to take Bill and Emma for their first yoga class which by all accounts was an intense session.
I managed to get out and enjoy some peace and quiet in the nature reserve looking out over the lake. It was all very serene and I can see why people have come here in order to achieve some spiritual enlightenment.
We spent most of the morning in the reserve going for a little hike to get better views of the lake and then jumping off a wooden balcony into the clear blue waters. After enjoying a swim we decided to catch a boat over to San Pedro which certainly had a lot more going on being full of hostels and restaurants. While it was nice to have lunch here we were glad that we had decided to stay in San Marcos.
When we got back Sarah and I went to our first Meditation class. We had enquired the day before and we had told them that we were absolute beginners and they said that we could join in one of their classes. It turns out that the temple was one of the first buildings here built 20 years ago and the shape of the building and the setting were almost a little intimidating along with the fact that we didn’t know what to expect.
The class we were joining was 15 strong and 3 weeks into a month long class. So we were told that there was no talking in the temple and sort of looked at each other and copied what everyone else was doing.  
We entered the square based triangular temple through a small tunnel and inside it was all wooden and the were something akin to an alter in the middle and all around were placed white mats for us to sit in. Trying to see what everyone else was doing and copy, Sarah managed to get herself comfortable quite quickly.
I on the other hand struggled. I could see that some of the people had managed to get a small stool to sit on and fancied one of those. Luckily the leader of the class was allowed to speak and took sympathy on me and showed me where the stools were. I then took it back to my mat and tried to sit on it. Unfortunately the mat caused the stool to wobble and I ended up rolling over onto my back with the stool clattering on the wooden floor and completely destroying whatever calmness and silence there was!! Not a good start but at least no one laughed I guess.
Once I had finally got settled the class could begin and the class leader said “we will begin with 30 minutes of silent meditation.” Well I wished at this point that I had done a little more research into what meditation was!!
I remembered somewhere that it was about breathing calmly and emptying the mind and I thought that there was a technique about thinking exclusively about a stone. So anyway I tried and to be fair must have cleared my mind somewhat as the time passed fairly quickly although I will admit to me having to pull my mind back from a whole host of random thoughts.
The main issue that I had was that my legs had gone completely numb from the knee down but luckily we were told at this point to lie on our backs and we were going to do an exercise to discover our mission in life (ideal and convenient). I was feeling pretty relaxed at this point and the lady took us through a mental visualisation where we ended up at the bottom of Lake Atitlan in a temple where (to cut a long story short) we ended up picking a colour (t yellow, s blue) a number (t 4, s 9) a planet (t Mars, s Sun) an element (t water, s fire) and a symbol (both circle).
She then explained what each of these choices meant and we had to spend some time interpreting them. The interesting thing for me was that I have been on a few courses and read a few books and done quite a few exercises to determine what sort of person you are and they all come to a similar conclusion. As did this method which for me was fascinating.  
We had a bit of a debrief afterwards and I have to admit I felt very relaxed and refreshed even though I don’t think I did it properly but I think I might read a bit more into it and have another go.
All in all a nice relaxing experience in San Marcos and I can see why people spend some time here and while we just dipped our toes into the spirituality of the place I think that whether it’s the people or the environment or both but there is a spiritual nature to the place. T

The port at San Marcos.

San Pedro volcano, looking absolutely fantastic on the first morning.

The seat I managed to find to enjoy the beauty and tranquility.

The view from the bench.

The national reserve where we went for our wanders.

Full of weird and wonderful flowers.

A couple of shots of San Marcos, not much happening here.

Sarah, saluting Hitler as she jumped into the lake.

San Pedro, just the other side of the lake.

The Main Street in San Pedro.

A typical shop front in San Marcos, all very hippy.

The kitchen at one of the restaurants we ate at.

The temple in which we did our meditation, unfortunately no cameras allowed inside.


We decided on an earlyish start to our trip into Guatemala as we were doing it ourselves in Chicken buses and we thought we had a few changes. But as we only had 180kms to travel we didn’t think we would have a problem. 

After one bus change we were soon walking across the border into Guatemala without any issues. So no stamps needed for El Salvador. We think this is because there is an agreement for most western travelers that they can spend 90 days in Nic, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. 

We then picked up our third chicken bus on the border and made it all the way to Guatamala City. Where we were unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road in a not great area and told to walk straight to catch our bus to Antigua. Well it wasn’t that easy but eventually we made our final change to make it to Antigua. Only took us 8 hours to travel 180kms! 

We were meeting Bill and Emma in Antigua so we were looking forward to hearing all of their adventures and although it had only been about 5 weeks since seeing them we both had covered a huge amount of ground. A few drinks later we had all regaled each other of our adventures and we were all looking forward to investigating Antigua.

So what we haven’t mentioned is that Tim had managed to catch some weird foot disease a few weeks ago. We originally thought a bite and then I thought ring worm and then while looking at pictures of ring worm we discovered that he may have potentially picked up a hook worm that had borrowed into his foot. 

So after further Google investigations we decided he maybe should see a doctor. So again googled that and within an hour had an English speaking Doctor visiting the hostel. He was a little taken aback by Tim’s disease as he had never seen one in real life only read about them. You catch this by being in contact with human or animal feces in a wet environment which is quite disturbing but after we mentioned the toilet situation on San Blas he wasn’t so surprised. So off to the hospital for a prescription for worming tablets and a clean of the foot for us. Easy peasy and we were soon out and investigating Antigua with Bill and Emma.

Antigua was another colonial town but not as restored as Granada. A lot of its churches were actually crumbling. This was due to an earthquake in 1773 whereafter the capital became Guatamala City instead of Antigua so there was no money for costly rebuilds. It really was a beautiful place, very touristy but it still managed to retain its charm. 

One of the reasons for this is that Guatemala has a large indigenous population. Walking around the city passing ladies in bright skirts and tops carrying baskets of fruit etc on their heads was really special and reminded us a lot of Bolivia and Peru.

Unfortunately it then started to pour it down so it was back to the hostel for us to do some planning. We did manage to make it back out to visit the artisan market which was full of beautiful textiles and leather work and have another quick walk around before finishing the day off on a roof top bar overlooking the city with views of the 3 volcanoes surrounding the city. Not a bad way to start our Guatemalan adventure. S

Tim being pocked and prodded by the Doc.

One of the many colonial buildings that is just a shell or only has one wall still standing. In this building they use the space to teach local kids a trade. Pretty good use of the space I think.

We just don’t seem to get sick of looking at the colonial style streets. So interesting and beautiful.

I purchased some sweets off this lady and asked her for a photo. She was well pleased and posed up a storm for me.

Such a beautiful church. The detail was just awesome.

Could you get any more picturesque. The street, the clock tower and the volcano.

Another old building slowly crumbling away

The view from the sky bar. We accidentally had it in a scene but the result was pretty awesome.

The views around the town at night was also spectacular. Antigua definitely impressed us.