Amazing place, amazing people 3

It’s interesting to see how easy it is to be influenced by what we read and hear and how, more often than not, we find that our preconceptions are completely unfounded.
For instance when we go to another country, having read that the crime rate is high and that the country is “officially” rated as extremely dangerous, that the risk of robbery or kidnap is high and that gun crime is commonplace, it’s very easy to get carried away, thinking that everyone is a potential criminal and acting in such a self protective way that to really connect with people becomes difficult.

These are the kind of reports we had read and heard of before setting off to Guatemala and to be honest we were not really any different from most allowing some paranoia and suspicion to creep in.
But, thankfully, it is not in our nature to be such suspicious creatures and opening up and warming to the people came very easy, mainly because the people of Guatemala are fantastic.

Kind, helpful, funny and big hearted sums up the people we met pretty well. I’m not saying that the bad things do not exist or that there are no criminals etc… Because I’m sure that if we had stayed in some of the rougher parts of Guatemala City then we may have had a completely different experience, but its worth remembering that those who do commit such crimes are generally a very small minority.

Here I am going to throw in a special mention to the people at the Estacion Biological Las Guacamayas because we were not treated like workers or volunteers but more like family.

So adios Guatemala …..muchas gracias

And now a few photos of the people, the jewels of Guatemala.

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And a little section dedicated to our friends at EBG

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Next stop Costa Rica and Drake bay where the jungle meets the sea

Love to all

Amazing place, amazing people 2

Part 2 – The flora and fauna

The tropical jungle comprised of its forests, rivers and animals is awesome, totally captivating, and from the second our jeep arrived at the jungle village of Paso Caballos we immediately knew that we had arrived somewhere very special. We jumped aboard the station’s transport boat moored in the village and headed up the Rio San Pedro to our destination.

During this first river trip we spotted crocodiles, many tropical exotic birds and was generally mesmerised by the outstanding beauty and unspoiled condition of the river and surrounding tropical forest.

Our station as we approached from the river.

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During our first week here some guests staying at the station saw a puma on one of the trails which are also used by beautiful but elusive jaguars. A team of ecologists carry out a survey counted nine different jaguars in the area during their research (proving the good work at the station is keeping the balance of the ecosystem healthy)

On our first full day at the location we were returning from a vantage point near the station called El Mirador (meaning view point) when my nearest and dearest almost trod on this character on the path on the way down. Only some nifty footwork prevented a potential life threatening encounter.

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This photo is the snake which was sitting hidden on a step coming down from El Mirador, this little fella just happens to be a fer-de-lance the most dangerous snake in the whole of Central America. It’s venom destroys tissue and in many cases leads to death.

Speaking of El Mirador, this is the view from atop of the viewpoint of the river with its flood plane and again at sunset.

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Here are just a few more of the many locals we met.

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And here’s a few more of the surrounding area

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And then one day the staff decided to treat us to a day off and a 7k walk through the jungle to the ruins of the Mayan city w’aka Peru

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And last but not least, during this walk to the site our guide cornelio led us to a place off the main track where scarlet macaws sometimes nest.
To provide some background, the station is called The Estacion Biologica Las Guacamayas named after the beautiful scarlet macaws.
The macaws are now vary rare in Guatemala because of poaching and the lack of natural habitat caused by flooding and lack of suitable nesting trees, and now there are reported to be only three hundred left in Guatemala and these are only found in this area of Peten. The EBG has been working with other conservation groups to save this species so we were all delighted to be greeted by this sight when we neared the spot

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Muy Bonito

Only one thing topped the the forest, rivers and wildlife and that was the people we met…..in Part 3

Love to all

Amazing place, amazing people

Sadly our volunteering position at the Estación Biologica Las Guacamayas has come to an end and now we’re back in civilisation. The three weeks we spent there were out if this world and trying to convey our experiences in a quick blog would not do the place or people justice. So this may become a mini series.

    Part 1 – Volunteering

The Biological station is situated in an area of pristine tropical humid forest home to many amazing animals such as Jaguars, Pumas, Tapirs, and many others species of mammals, birds and reptiles and serves many purposes. Originally it was set up to preserve the jungle from illegal logging, animal capture & smuggling and to act as a deterrent against the looting of Mayan archeological sites (which are located throughout the Peten region of Guatemala) but now has expanded it’s activities to include an education program for the local villagers, provide a base for biological research and to create a model for eco tourism which helps promote and support the future of the flora and fauna in the region.

On arrival we were greeted by the stations small team of workers and management who really made us feel at home. We were then shown around the station and taken on walks through the jungle on the paths created by the station to assist in the tracking and monitoring of wildlife and to provide tourists an opportunity to really get into the jungle and perhaps meet its inhabitants.

The work opportunities for volunteers are very diverse and while our main project was to be the creation of signs for the trails we also got really involved in the education of the children from the local village of Paso Caballos and did everything else from cooking to translating documents (of course that was Dani).

The photos tell the story much better than words.

Creating the signs

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Drawing the signs with a soldering iron and painting

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Building the structure for the main sign using traditional methods

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And the final result

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Teaching English to Los Niños (The kids)

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The volunteer work was really worthwhile as it contributed towards the success of the station and its efforts to preserve this jungle paradise, and speaking of the jungle the next blog will show some of its beauty and its inhabitants.

Love to all.

Tikal….. Place of Whispers

Our trip to Tikal started somewhat nervously when our tour operator, who had arranged our shuttle, met us outside our hotel to inform us that the bus we had booked was not coming and that a private taxi had been arranged instead. Although a little suspicious at first, the new arrangement was ideal as we had a car to ourselves and the driver was very informative. The drive itself was nice and relaxed and very interesting passing through many small jungle villages and eventually reaching the Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park is a huge site of ancient Mayan cities and temples which are linked by a number of roads and pathways cleverly carved through the jungle. The paths are well made and actually seem to enhance rather than detract from the beauty of the place.

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We arranged to spend a night in the park, at the Jaguar Inn which is one of only three accommodation options within the park, so we could participate in the much recommended sunrise tour.
Upon arriving at the hotel we were captivated by the cries and whoops from the exotic birds and we were even greeted by a tiny toucan who came to say hello.

On our first day in the park we headed off alone armed with a small map and made our way around the somewhat slippery limestone walkways taking in the sights and sounds and climbing up the various towering temple steps. The views from above were breathtaking but were only an appetizer of what awaited us on the second day.

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We woke at 3.30am ready to meet our guide at 4am and head into the jungle. The tour guide was an amazing local guy very knowledgable on the plants, animals and history and as it was only myself and Dani it was very intimate. It was pitch black when we set off and as we were the first ones into the park wandering around the jungle and ruins devoid of other tourists it was perfect.

At around 4.30am our guide led us up the stairway to the top of the largest temple on the site, 70 meters above the forest floor and overlooking the lush forest canopy and smaller temples. We sat in complete silence as dawn approached and the forest below erupted into sound with the chorus of birds and animals, especially the haunting calls of the howler monkeys, booming across the canopy.
This was most definitely one of those never to forget moments.

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The only downside was that some doughnut (me) messed up trying to record the sounds and most of the photos i had taken were not much better than useless (evidence above) but nevertheless nothing could detract from what was definitely the best experience of our trip to date.
And now back to Flores for a few days before our volunteer programme starts, and, I may even take a few Spanish lessons……may!

And finally a few little fellas we met while mooching around.

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So for now,
Love to all

Flores & lake Peten Itza ……amazing

After a few days relaxing in the former capital city of Antigua we headed north to the picturesque lake island of Flores which we will be our home for the coming week or so. The island displays the same colonial charm as Antigua, but is only the size of half a dozen or more football pitches. The island can be reached by car or foot via a short causeway.

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Flores is mainly inhabited by a constantly changing community of tourists heading to or returning from the famous ruins at Tikal or other nearby Mayan sites.

It was dark when we arrived but after a nine hour bus ride we was in no mood to explore even though the enticing songs of the tropical birds outside our window were beckoning us out. But on waking the sheer magnitude and beauty of the lake and surrounding area hit us full in the face…Awesome

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What makes this place so amazing is its location. Lago Peten Itza is the second largest lake in Guatemala and is located within the dense Mayan Biosphere reserve. The lake itself is massive, almost 20 miles long and 3 miles wide and the banks of the lake are mainly covered in dense jungle with a few towns interspersed.

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During our first day we started exploring the island and meeting the people, who are fantastic. We even witnessed a religious street procession which Dani happily danced along with.

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But now we’re chilling as tomorrow we are off to Tikal, deep in the jungle, to see the impressive Mayan city ruins and to finally make acquaintances with the jungle animals.

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So for now
Love to all.

Antigua…..muy bonito

One thing is for sure, my Spanish is about as much use as a ball and chain during a 200 meters sprint, lucky for me Dani speaks the lingo a little. In hindsight a Spanish course on arrival would have been useful but nevertheless we seem to be getting by ok and even my barbaric assault on the Spanish language seems to get a smile most of the time. I think the people of Antigua appreciate the effort even if they can’t understand a word I say, and why would they, I can’t either.

Anyway, enough of that and more of this… Antigua is absolutely beautiful, it’s the small cobbled streets and the colourful colonial buildings that are the most striking, so much so that we almost failed to noticed the wall of towering volcanic mountains surrounding the city. It’s also hard to believe that this was once the capital city of Guatemala because, despite the throng of tourist activity and day to day business, there remains a calm, friendly and easy going atmosphere.

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However, What I love the most about Antigua is the people, there is a great mix of locals and tourists, from the beautiful indigenous Mayan ladies in their traditional costumes to the modern business men and women, the hoards of Spanish students and of course us.

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As we had been spending quite some time in town we decided that a trip to a local active volcano would make a good outing and a chance to see something of the countryside surrounding the city. Unfortunately we were unable to go to the crater to see the lava as the volcano was deemed too active and potentially dangerous but we made the most of it and enjoyed the hike and the views. We did however find a few hot holes and craters to play in, and enjoyed the company of a group of young Americans and a pack of local wild dogs.

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So now it’s time to head north to Flores and Tikal. Goodbye from Antigua.
Love to all.

Goodbye Security, Hola Guatemala

So, it’s done.
Home gone, furniture donated and all the stuff that we apparently can’t let go of is now in safe hands.
It felt a little strange giving away the door keys knowing that we are now in the ‘No fixed address’ category but boy does it feel good. To make our new freedom feel even better it was cold, grey and bleeding miserable in London when we left so no broken hearts.
By contrast we landed in Madrid for our connecting flight to Guatemala in beautiful sunshine, a rare and most welcome phenomenon for English eyes in January.

The flight to Guatemala was uneventful, the plane was a little small and cramped but when we landed it became obvious that a bigger plane may not have been wiser, a steep descent and a sharp turn in front of a small mountain on landing left a few travellers screaming and I for one still have my better half’s claw marks in my leg to prove it.

We were picked up at the airport and travelled through Guatemala City to Antigua by bus during the local rush hour, an experience not dissimilar to driving in Delhi, but nevertheless well worth the effort.
After a good night’s sleep to recover from the journey we have spent this morning mooching around Antigua chilling, the place is cool and surprisingly very relaxed and the people are great, they are very friendly and helpful….Nice

Antigua from our roof terrace

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Streets of Antigua

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Dani from our room

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Love to all