The end of the world, everyone is talking about the 21 December, this date comes from the calculation of the Mayan calendar. However when in Guatemala I learnt the end of this calendar, also called Bhaktun, is really about a new exciting beginning! On arrival at my hotel I also noticed Halloween was celebrated here, with a skilfully carved pumpkin grimacing back at me from the desk!
Antigua was just where I wanted to be, it was beautiful to walk around, as a UNESCO heritage city the cobbled streets are protected as well as the colonial buildings lining the streets with colour. The surrounding volcanoes were clearly visible; Agua, Acetenango and Fuego which was gently smoking. A place great for couples, families and also lone travellers, Antigua is a comfortable base with cafes, restaurants and within easy access from which to explore the surrounding villages, coffee plantations and volcanoes.
Interestingly I arrived a day before ‘All Saints Day’, also known as ‘Dias de los Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’. Curious to see how this day was
celebrated, which in the latter sounds a little haunting, I went out with my guide to a local graveyard which was just the opposite to dead! The
energy and buzz as you walked around was a wonderful feeling, people came with their families to join their dead. Kites filled the sky making it full of bright vivid colours, fuchsia pink Alpinia Purporatas and Birds of Paradise flowers brimmed over the graves which were in different styles; some were the more modest Mayan style and others were built up crypts where families were buried together. Depending on the way the graves were facing you could tell what that person’s religion was; Christian or Mayan. We left the families to enjoy their happy day, all together.
Learning more about the history I felt humbled by the people, they had only recently come out of civil war which held the most haunting stories. But similarly to what I had felt whilst in Vietnam was pure inspiration, these people were very positive despite their loss and destructive past. I only hope we could be as strong as them if faced with the same situation. People still dressed in indigenous clothes which were colourful and also meaningful, I learnt the style of material showed where you were from and even which religious group you belonged to. A trait encouraged by the Spanish to further their control over the Mayans. Markets such as Chichicastenango and Comalapa were complete visual delights, the movement of colour and people exchanging local produce and clapping tortillas into perfect round flats. (shown in my photo above)
I had read about the volcanoes and lakes of Guatemala and with a big build up, Lake Atitlan lived up to its great reputation. Stopping at a view
point, I took in Atitlan’s calm waters reflecting the surrounding majestic volcanoes; even Fuego’s smoke could be seen in the far distance. Woman washed their clothes in the lake by the village of Santiago. Here you can stop by the main Church which has an impressive alter at the back telling the story of the struggle between the Mayans and Christians.
My guide Carlos Vivar was the star of the trip teaching me so much and created my ultimate Mayan evening in his home village of Uaxactun. A
campsite lined with lit torches and comfortable canvas tents with beds awaited us after a full day of exploring the Tikal ruins, which I have to
say, were mind blowing! I really felt that I was out in the jungle after showering under an audience of spiders as big as my hands clinging to the thatched roof- I had the fastest shower of my life! I felt refreshed and alive!
Carlos sat us down around the camp fire to tell us about his past. Hearing his stories of how he grew up through the civil war and worked so hard for his education made me think how very lucky we all are. He really is a tremendous human being and showed us how strong we can all be with motivation. Feeling quite moved by the whole experience we continued on to have dinner, leading us up a jungle path we came to a Mayan pyramid illuminated with the glow of candles. The sight of this spectacle against the background of the jungle and the night’s sky is one that I will remember forever. We sat at the table which was arranged for us by a local family and learnt that this pyramid dates back to 300 BC and will be the main one celebrated for the Bhaktun. This was very special, climbing to the top of the pyramid we were the only ones there apart from a stray scorpion.
Leaving Guatemala at the Melchor de Mencos border crossing we drove on into Belize, it was like stepping through a gateway into a new place. Here everyone spoke English as well as Mayan, Creole and Spanish and the people looked different, this was a country bursting with multicultural diversity! The food in Belize was delicious, the blend of the creole flavours with some Marie Sharpe’s hot sauce to give it an added buzz made for some tasty treats, not forgetting the great seafood which could be found along the coast and out on the cayes.
For me Belize felt exciting, there was lots to explore and if you don’t mind sitting in a bumpy vehicle for a couple of hours you’ll be rewarded by travelling through intricate and extensive cave networks and exploring jungles to find Mayan ruins. The reserves in Belize are home to a massive variety of birds, howler and spider monkeys as well as the very elusive jaguar. The mainland is a place where you can hike, swim, bike and ride horses which offers something to everyone and all ages.
Flying over the Caribbean jade waters I could see the long stretch of the Barrier Reef; the second largest in the world! I landed in San Pedro on
Ambergris Caye, well this was Belize’s trump card! White sandy beaches lapped by the inviting waters and clear blue skies. A snorkelling trip showed me how full of life the waters are, I swam next to skates, rays, sharks and so many tropical fish! The more adventurous went out diving at the famous Blue hole. This was a perfect place to end my trip, the island’s slow paced life let me stop and simply relax.