From the moment we arrived, we knew Guatemala was one of the most unique places we’d ever been. In this fifth installment in the Guatemala Series, see how unique Guatemala is, which started with our motorsail up the river from Livingston. Livingston is a port city at the mouth of the river. To get to Livingston from the Caribbean Sea, we had to cross a huge shifting sandbar. Livin’ Life and Slow Flight have a 5 foot draft and Vidorra is around 4 feet. So Bruce led the way and called out depth readings to us along the way. There were spots we barely cleared, but we all made it without bottoming out.
The river winds and twists through the jungle and slices right through a gorgeous canyon. It is truly one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had on the boat. Bruce shot the drone footage on our way out of the Rio.
We’ve seen thatched roofs before, but using palm fronds is a very common roofing method in Guatemala. The palm fronds are woven so tightly together that the rain does not seep through. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but we’ve now spent plenty of time under them to know it’s true. The buildings along the Rio ranged from tiny one room thatched homes to elaborate resorts and millionaire-type homes.
Whether thatched or corrugated metal, the roofs are very steep to keep all the rain from building up weighing it down. I love how well most of the buildings blend in with the environment.
Some areas are cleared and landscaped, though. I suppose not everyone wants to live in the jungle, but these big park-like lands are the exception rather than the rule.
Big, small, business, or home, all the buildings have personality.
The cities and towns have standard buildings and would be plain, except that Guatemalans are not afraid of color and paint them brightly.
Speaking of being unafraid of color… Old retired school buses are shipped from the U.S., rebuilt, and pimped out to be repurposed as long distance buses.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen two the same, as i’m sure they reflect the personalities of the drivers/owners.
North of the Rio Dulce, on the way to the Mayan city of Tikal (which I discussed in the history blog in this series), there is a little city called Flores which extends out into a Lake Petén. It is a fun and charming town with lots of personality. Hotel Petén, for instance, has an indoor pool right in the lobby.
The town has blend of buildings and a main road that turns into the Hollywood Strip at night. Everyone takes their sweetest ride out and cruises up and down the strip.
Brightly colored buildings ring the lake and water taxis offer transportation to places you can’t reach by car or foot…
Like this museum on an island in the lake.
Antigua is a colonial town and World UNESCO site. Therefore, there are very strict building guidelines. Much of the city was damaged by earthquakes, so reconstruction must be true to the original construction. Also new construction must look like it had been around since colonial times. So the six years new villas we stayed in looked like they were built hundreds of years ago. And they did an excellent job.
Antigua still has cobblestone roads and some, like this one, are closed to all but foot traffic.
One of the times Antigua was destroyed was by a massive mudslide and flood from Vulcán de Agua (Water Volcano). It sits ominously over the city. Currently, Vulcán de Fuego (Fire Volcano) is active and spewing lava, putting on a great show at night.
There are plenty of bars to choose from, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many huge churches and cathedrals in one place.
The colors and patterns of the Guatemalan ladies’ traditional dress are remarkable, eye-catching, and certainly unique.
I think Guatemalans are presented with their first machete at two years old and it just becomes an extension of their bodies. They use it to trim trees, mow the lawn, open coconuts, you name it. One tool to rule them all.
Holidays are celebrated in a big way, Easter has permanent floats that are carried upon the shoulders of men. These weigh hundreds of pounds!
Dead guys were hanging out on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead or Halloween). People old and young sported costumes and flashing lights and trick-or-treated just like we do in the states.
Pets may be a little different in Guatemala. Isn’t he adorable?
A huge cross for no apparent reason overlooks Antigua. But since there is a cross there, they named the hill “Hill of the Cross”. Why not?
All Saints Day, the day before Halloween, is celebrated at every graveyard in the country. But the graveyard at Sumpango is special and hosts a kite festival where families send messages up to their lost loved ones.
The biggest ones don’t fly, but these would if only they could get some wind.
There were around 125,000 people at this festival. Anytime you are at an event of this magnitude (anywhere in the world), guard your belongings closely. Or better yet, leave them behind. There are always pickpockets that prey on tourists. But don’t let a few bad apples spoil your fun.
People walked around selling all kinds of things. Where the men used hand carts and stands, the women just carried their wares on their heads like these beautifully crafted and colorful textiles.
I saw 2-3 year olds working kites, by 6 years they are pros!
There must be better wind from on top of the graves.
Families honor their lost loved ones like nothing we see in the states. Beautiful tradition!
At least four generations spend the day decorating, picnicking, kiting, and performing curious rituals that I wish I could have asked them about. I really need to improve my Spanish!
These guys drinking beer cracked me up, but also touched me. What a great way to honor a friend.
Up in the mountains just northeast of Antigua, we passed farmlands…
To visit Hobbitenango. It was a crazy steep drive to the parking lot. Then the drive gets even steeper and crazier, so a shuttle service is offered. If only we knew how it worked.
We hiked the rest of the way up. It was hot, steep, and treacherous. But we made it!
An entire community came together to plan and build their own little Hobbiton.
Our first stop was the Green Dragon for water, food and awesome specialty drinks.
Thank goodness Lily from Delphinus had a birthday and gave us just the excuse we needed to search out something so unique.
Not only is Antigua surrounded by volcanoes, but so is Lake Atitlan. Those beautiful textiles for sale throughout Guatemala? Many of them are handmade in the small towns around the lake. Have you ever seen a country so diverse? I don’t think we have.
In the next and final blog in the Guatemala Series, I talk about what it is like to go there as a cruiser during hurricane season.