Monday, March 31, 2014

Tikal 2–Alexander’s take on the Mayan Ruins

posted by Alexander

Our first view of the Great Jaguar temple.
We had to wake up pretty early, and drive for five hours but we finally made to Tikal. An ancient Mayan city that is a ruin now. I expected that we would arrive and already be exploring ancient Maya but apparently we had to walk along some trails first. We passed some cool signs teaching us about the wildlife though. There were howler monkeys that liked to try and poop on peoples heads, and big raccoon rodent things called coati. There were also supposed to be jaguars but we didn’t see any of those. After a little while of walking on the trails we finally arrived at the Grand Plaza. This was an assembly of four ruins. Two huge temples, one slightly bigger than the other and a north and south Acropolis. These were less about height and more about spanning more area.

Toy temple view from the North Acropolis.
Now, I have been to Chichen Itza on the solstice which means there was a special shadow that looked like a snake descending stairs but I was a million times more impressed with Tikal. Aside from a few ruins like the taller temple I mentioned (called the Great Jaguar) you could actually go on a lot of these ruins. They had added scaffolding to the other temple in the Plaza so we could climb up to the top. We got a great view of the Acropolis’s and saw some more temples in the distance we wanted to check out.

Christopher exploring the North Acropolis.

Even though the temples were tall the South Acropolis was cooler. There were so many little nooks and crannies to climb around and we could actually explore it all! We could even go inside the buildings. Although there were no deep tunnels or anything. Christopher and I did a ton of clambering around the ruins which made mom and dad kind of antsy. We also checked out the North Acropolis but I thought it was less impressive than the South.

Scrambling on the South Acropolis with the Great Jaguar temple behind.

Finding all the nooks and crannies.

We could have just seen that and been happy but we had until three o clock and there was plenty of time. We had a snack stop and saw some Coatis and then headed of to the next temple. As we walked along the trails it was hard not to think of when these would be packed with people, and huts, and shops. Tikal after all was a booming city. Mom had a little guide book and when we read about how they had trade routes and messaging with other places that were where Mexico City is now, Mom was amazed at how far they would travel.

Coati (also called Coatimundi) where everywhere.  They acted kind of like dogs.
Then we reached one of my favorite temples. I think it was called the Sunset Temple. It was so high up that we had to climb tons of stairs (newly added) to get to the top. Since it wasn’t actually the ruin that was really tall it didn’t get credited as tallest in the park. But it was definitely the highest up. The view was so fantastic I can’t describe it. We could hear howler monkeys roaring in the background and I thought it sounded a lot like Sasquatch getting mauled by a grizzly bear. There was no guard rail on that temple so one misstep could send you plunging into the jungle. When we had seen enough of the view we set off again to go check out some other temples.

Approaching the sunset temple through the jungle.

Looking out from the Sunset temple.  The view from here...
...was this.
Now we saw a lot of temples that day so I will just tell you about my last most memorable one. We weren’t even aloud to climb it. There was just some aesthetic about the temple that made it the most impressive one. I don’t know what it was called but I will make sure to put in a picture.

My favorite temple.  I'm not sure what it was called.  I think maybe just Temple VI.
The drive back was agonizingly long and everybody was exhausted by the end. We had some pizza from the restaurant bar and went to bed.

If you ever want to check out a Mayan ruin don’t go to Chichen Itza. Tikal is awesome!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Indiana Jones Style

Posted by Christopher

The remarkable Gran Plaza at Tikal, from the North Acropolis.
I woke to the sound of “TIME TO WAKE UP!’. It was 5:30. So naturally, I rolled over and slept in for 5 minutes. When I finally heaved myself out of bed, I walked up to the breakfast table to see my Dad, Mom, brother and sister eating a breakfast of buttered toast and orange juice. So I sat down and had a bite to eat. After that we began to rush, getting dressed and doing our teeth. I got outside and slipped into my shoes walking down the dock. We got to the lancha and our driver took us over to the dock in Fronteras. I was carrying a backpack as we zipped across the pristine water. There was a touch of mist in the air as we reached our taxi/van. We had arranged to take this cab a couple days prior, to take us to Tikal, the ancient Mayan city, now in ruins.

An early morning lancha from Tortugal into Fronteras.
The taxi ride took FOREVER! (and by that I mean like, 4 and a half hours). We drove and drove and drove past the hilly Guatemala regions. Finally we reached the Tikal national park style thing. We needed to go through several gates, one of which required some cash, and decline a tour guide half a dozen times. We were pretty intent on just going our own pace through Tikal, even if that meant declining some knowledge (we still had a book that told us pretty much the same thing). So we finally parked and asked our driver to be at the parking lot at three. Since it was eleven at this point, that seemed like plenty of time. We began to walk in to the park ( a tad hungry since we hadn’t eaten since 5:00) and were instantly faced with a 25 minute hike from the parking lot into the ruins. We faced that, all the way to the “grand plaza” which was a compilation of four Mayan buildings: two temples, and two “acropolis’s” which were sort of a jumble of stone architecture layering upward. It was pretty cool.

The drive was quite a bit longer than we had thought, but the minivan was comfortable.
Watch out for howler monkeys defecating on your head!
We first decided to go to the temple that we were allowed to climb up to the top. It was a very scenic spot and it was pretty cool, but it didn’t really feel like you were a temple explorer. The next one that we went to though, managed that effect.  We went to the “south acropolis”. II t was pretty awesome as we walked and climbed all over the ruins finding different rooms and climbing to different heights and floors. I found one platform that you could either get to by edging along a narrow edge (not very high up) or going through a small couple corridors. Then you could climb some narrowing stairs up to a sort of tower top that was a great vista! Also nobody else was up there so we had to all to ourselves.

Mom took this picture of me, Dad, Alexander and Katie at the top of the second temple...
...while we were taking a picture of her...
... in the courtyard of the Gran Plaza.
Next we went to the to the north acropolis which was similar, except that the south one had a big courtyard and the north was more compact. We searched and climbed around there for a while and then went back down to find some more temples. We walked for another little while and found another couple temples including one that looked super imposing and sheer, but we couldn’t go up it. A different one was on top of a large hill and had an AMAZING view of the land for kilometers and kilometers around.

The view of the North Acropolis from temple 2.
Katie, climbing the North Acropolis.

The temples were all unbelievable, sweeping up into the blue sky.
Finally we needed to leave. It was 2:30 but it felt like it should be maybe 12:00. So we began to head to our last area which was the seven temples. These were seven really small temples, around a massive courtyard. It was pretty cool and it seemed very movie-like, but finally we had to leave. So we headed back the way we came, all the way down to the parking lot. There, we found our driver, waiting in his car. We climbed in (starving, it was 3 and we hadn’t eaten since 5 in the morning). We drove for about three hours before it became dark. That was rather terrifying because there weren’t any seatbelts in the car, and so I couldn’t find any sleep. After what seemed like an entire night, we got back to the dock. We got in the boat waiting for us and then took off down the black water back to our marina. When we got there we headed up to the restaurant next to our boat ( Now STARVING because it’s 7:30) and ordered a pizza. When I heard that it was going to take 25 minutes to get here I was horribly shocked, but sure enough, with patience, it arrived.

Climbing temple IV.  Note the complete lack of guardrails.  The access to the ruins was remarkable.
High above the jungle, Temple IV.
As we sat and looked down on the ruins poking up through the jungle, we tried to imagine Tikal at it's height, as a thriving city of hundreds of thousands of people.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Turtle gal? Tortlegle? Tortugal!

Posted by Alexander

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Buying nuts in Fronteras.  This guy saw us coming, and definitely charged us the tourist price.  We didn't do the math quickly enough, and didn't figure it out until after we got back to the boat.

We have arrived at the vacation destination! The place everyone’s been talking about! And since nobody has ever heard of it I’ll describe it to you.

We rolled into Tortugal just a few days ago.

Walking into Fronteras, the main town on the Rio Dulce.

(This blog was written a few days after a few days ago). When I say rolled I mean sort of shuffled into a space. It was kind of like parallel parking a boat. We had to tie our front to the dock then edge our back around and tie it on to two posts in the water. Once we did that we were free to check out Tortugal, which is the marina where we are staying. The pictures are of Fronteras, the town near Tortugal, and not of the Marina itself.

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The main street of Fronteras.  Really just a spot on the highway that is lined by markets and stores.  There are no sidewalks, so you have to be careful not to get hit by a car coming by.
The marina has a little swim platform out in the river which is really great for when the day gets hot; which it does. There is also a bar which is great for when the kids get bored! (Kidding!) What is great for when the kids get bored is that they have a pool table. They also have a ton of movies but I’ve never heard of any of them and the only ones that look decent are in Spanish.

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This is what your mom would look like is she was a luchador who fought for the cause of low prices.

There are also washrooms and showers but those are everywhere.

Mom and Dad are planning an awesome trip for us while we’re here in Guatemala. We’re going to go on a big drive and see a bunch of cool places like Mayan ruins! I’m very excited and we should be going in a few days. We’ll take tons of pictures and the blog will most likely flood with blogyness.

On our first night here we got the bar’s pizza which was really good. They were supposed to show a movie too but it looked pretty boring so instead we hooked Katie up with Despicable Me 2 and Christopher and I watched the Dark Knight. (This movie is kind of dark but really awesome so if you haven’t seen it and your not four you should watch it).

Yesterday we went on a little trip into town. By town I mean the highway which was covered in stores and people and trucks and cars. It was pretty crazy but we were determined to go get some ice cream. (We ended up with the lame stuff from Nestle). So we set off down the road. Now I’m pretty sure that we had like a 52% chance of being run down while walking on this highway so it’s amazing I’m writing this at all. Even this cat was almost run over! (Actually, the bike is stationary).

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Cool cat hanging out by his bike in Fronteras.
Apparently chicken is a big deal because unless we walked in a circle we passed a Pollo Express, (Chicken express) walked two more minutes and passed another one. We finally got our Ice cream and got out of there but it was kind of nice to get a look at the town.

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One of the market alleys off the main highway in Fronteras.
There is also an awesome fort nearby but we should get a closer look at that at some point so here is a teaser.

The Castillo de San Felipe
Check out the cannons!

I’ll blog you all later! (It’s a verb now! also I used a lot of parentheses today didn’t I?)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Texan Bay, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Posted by Scot

Texan Bay water life.

We pulled in to Texan Bay on the Rio Dulce more than 24 hours after departing Utila, Honduras.  The high we were feeling after having come up the spectacular Rio Dulce gorge was soon displaced by fatigue, and the need to get a good night’s sleep on a boat that was, finally, still.  I say finally, since not only had the boat been moving for the 24 hours of our trip, but also for the previous couple of days in Utila, which had been marked by swells coming in to the bay, keeping the boat rocking the whole time.

Texan Bay, Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
We set the anchor in our now well-choreographed routine, with Alexander and Katie at the windlass controls, and Christopher and I at the helm.  We quickly buttoned the boat up after our overnight passage.  We have become a pretty efficient team at this, and everything is done a few minutes after the anchor is down.  Alexander puts away the mainsail, zipping up the sailbag and attaching the front piece.  Katie turns off and covers up the instruments.  Christopher and I pull off the safety lines, undo the dinghy tie downs, and coil and hang all the lines and sheets.  Sara, Alexander, and Christopher then pull the boom over to port, in order to expose our solar panels to the most sun possible.  And voila  - we are in anchor mode.

Anchored in Texan Bay, ready to explore.
The kids jumped in the fresh water for a quick swim, and Sara and I had showers, enjoying the hot water we get from running the engines.  After a solid night’s sleep, none of us felt a huge need to hurry on up the Rio today.  Texan Bay is a beautiful little anchorage, surrounded by mangroves full of bird life and flowers.  We couldn’t help but notice the locals paddling in and out of narrow channels in the mangroves, hinting at exploration possibilities.

Paddling through the mangroves.
So, after school, Sara and I launched the kayak and the paddleboard, and set out to explore.  We paddled silently through the water hyacinths, along still water, among the mangroves and hanging vines.  Not far back in the trees, we came across a little local settlement, with houses built on stilts right in the middle of the mangrove forest.  Some kids were playing in a dugout canoe in front of their house.  While the baby happily stumbled around his water bound playpen, we could hear the electronic tones of the older boy playing a video game on his parent’s cell phone.  It seemed strangely out of place in this otherwise quiet wilderness.

Mangroves and vines.
Hanging out in the front yard.
After our paddle, we headed back to the boat, and sent the kids out to explore on their own.  It was a wonderful, peaceful day.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll carry on up the river.

Sending the kids out for their own exploration.

These two decided to try their luck fishing right next to our boat.  They actually pulled up quite a few good sized fish.
Heading home after fishing, among the mangroves.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Starting up the Rio Dulce

Posted by Scot

Coming in to the Rio Dulce from Livingston.
The first seven miles of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala was like nothing we have experienced on this boat, or any boat we have ever sailed.  Leaving the salt water estuary off Livingston, we pushed out into the current, giving Monashee her first freshwater taste of the Sweet River.

The jungle, reclaiming a boat outside Livingston.
As we slowly motored along, working our way against the gentle flow, we passed the last reminders of the busy port town of Livingston.  Old fishing boats covered in pelicans, some half sunk on the edge of the river, bade us a welcome to Guatemala.  We started to see locals paddling in their traditional dugout canoes, some enjoying the free ride as the current pushed them along, others working their way back upriver in the eddies along the banks.

Pelicans taking a break at the mouth of the Rio Dulce.
Mayans paddling downriver in their cayuco.
Quickly, the broad river mouth gave way to a spectacular gorge.  We were hemmed in on either side by vertical walls of jungle, climbing 500 feet up both banks.  Trees grew right down to the water’s edge, and even into the water, with curtains of vines hanging off of them.

In awe at the amazing scenery as we start up the Rio.
Jungle right down to the water on both sides.
Bird life was everywhere.  The pelicans at the entrance to the river, gliding along inches above the surface, gave way to their freshwater cousins.  Beautiful white egrets sat in the trees like Christmas decorations, while swallows and butterflies flitted around the boat.

Birds were everywhere.
A view worthy of Joseph Conrad.
Periodically, boats full of tourists roared past us up and down the river.  Their speed made us glad that we had the opportunity to go slowly and enjoy the peace that descended after they passed.  We laughed at the sight of their cameras and flashes all pointing at us, as if we were one of the attractions in this magical, wild place.

For tourists on the Rio, we were part of the scenery.
Tourist boats weren’t the only ones plying the river, though.  Local Maya Indians, fished the river from hand carved dugout canoes, called cayucos.  Those that weren’t fishing paddled effortlessly on their way to run their daily errands, some with their kids in the boat.  For them, the canoe is the family car, and the river is their main street.

Looking for the afternoon catch, on the Rio Dulce.
After a breathtaking couple of hours navigating the hairpin bends and the shallows of the Rio, we came out into El Gofete, the lake above the gorge.  We turned in to Texan Bay, following two other boats who had just come downstream.  Dropping anchor in the bay, we jumped into the fresh water for a swim and a cool down.  What a welcome to Guatemala! 

Coming out of the gorge into El Golfete
Following two other boats into Texan Bay.  We didn't know it, but there was a regatta scheduled on El Golfete the next day, so there were lots of boats in Texan Bay that night.