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Chapter 15 - Central America - Guatemala

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C
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Onto Guatemala....

Having started in Panama and travelled on to Nicaragua via Costa Rica, it was time to head to Guatemala, via El Salvador and Honduras. We had heard that the Easter week celebrations in Antigua were the best in Central and Latin America. We had to go take a look….


We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala at 7 pm on Easter Saturday. Wow! Antigua is amazing.

Antigua, Guatemala with one of three surrounding volcano’s towering over it.

Antigua was the capital city of Guatemala for 233 years, until 1776 when Guatemala City was given this honor. This change occurred when Antigua was all but wiped off the map due to a natural disaster.

Somewhat surprisingly was not one of the many volcanoes that destroyed the city, but rather an earthquake. The earthquake struck in 1773, leveling the city to such an extent that it took centuries for it to recover. There are still many ruins in the city which have not been repaired or removed from this event! The only original part of the renovated convent we stayed in that remained after the earthquake was this wall:

Looking at the wall of the convent where we were staying. This wall was all that survived of the 1773 earthquake

Antigua – Easter Week – Semana Santa.

Although we arrived right at the tail end of the week, Antigua for Semana Santa is something quite special.

The religious fervour of the groups carrying Easter floats through the streets, and the floats themselves, was moving.

Float of Christ being taken down from the Cross.

The Devotees swinging baskets of scented smoke through the streets.

Resurrected Christ.

The Devotees ahead of the Float.

Following each of the floats was a band that consisted of french horns, trumpets, tubas, trombones, clarinets and drums (snare and bass). The music depended on which part of Easter the float depicted. A sad dirge for the crucifixion, a jolly ditty for the resurrection....

The band that followed each float.

However, the unique part of the Antiguan Semana Santa celebration, is the street “carpets”.


They are made from different coloured sand and sawdust and placed on the streets as an offering in order for the numerous processions to walk over. There are literally hundreds of these that are laid down for the Semana Santa. And they were artistically stunning:




And then, within minutes they are destroyed and swept up into trucks following the processions!

The parade walking over the “carpet”.

The workmen cleaning up the “carpet”

It has to be said that, whilst the religious fervour of the crowd for the resurrection was moving, the actual image of Jesus on the float was a little, er, like Jesus had just popped out of a birthday cake and said “surprise!”, which, I suppose, in a way, he did……



Antigua Town

Antigua is a beautiful colonial town, in a stunning setting at an elevation of 1,500 metres meaning the days are about 25C and the nights are 13 C. Great when you’ve just come from sea level where it had been bloody hot and humid. And Antigua has great food. Our favourite was probably “La Luna de Miel” (The moon of honey), where, rather appropriately for Nikki and I they had a signpost with our starting point of Ushuaia on it, and our finishing point of Cape Horn…..

8,006 km’s from Ushuaia, at the bottom of South America, and 12,670 km’s to Cape Horn.

In the background is the biggest avocado tree we’ve ever seen.

Then again, me being a meat head, the steak at Frida’s Mexican Restaurant was stunning….Nikki had the best guacamole and nachos of the trip there as well!

The placemat at Fridas restaurant, Antigua.

Photo showing some of the food from Antigua.

Antigua is visually stunning…

No fast food, no dogs, and no hand guns !


My Sons, Alex and Michael

As some of you know, Guatemala is particularly interesting for me because Alex and Michael are one quarter Guatemalan. Their maternal grandmother was from Guatemala. Just like the book “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a history of a town in northern Columbia, the story of my sons’ Guatemalan heritage is a reflection of the history of Central America, with all of its divergent parts, including guerrilla’s, the CIA, an El Salvadorean president, and coffee.

Alex, Michael and me in Buenos Aires in January 2017


Lake Atitlan:

84,000 years ago a bloody great volcano went bang. The caldera is 12 km’s by 5 km’s and is about 4 hours from Antigua (Actually only a 100 km’s. Yes the roads are a bit basic). The 340 metre deep caldera filled with water and formed Lake Atitlan. Other volcano’s formed until you end of with one of the most stunning visual settings in the world.

Looking out over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

After our fill of Easter in Antigua, we decided to spend a few days relaxing on the lake. We spent our first night in San Pedro la Laguna.

View of Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

Sunset Photo from San Pedro la Laguna

Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

Our plan was then to travel to the other towns around the lake by water taxi, and spend 2 nights in Tzununa. However, our first stop was San Juan, a centre for many Mayan artisans, including painters and weavers. On arriving into town, the tuk tuk by chance dropped us off outside the studio of Diego Isaias Hernandez Mendez’s and, well, there was a painting. Nik and I have said a couple of years ago that, whilst we weren’t going to carry around things for a year, if we saw stuff that we just went “Yes, I want that”, then we’d buy it and ship it back. Also, I’ve seen art in the past and loved it, and not bought it, and regretted it. As soon as I saw this, I loved it. It's not to everyone's taste (Nikki said it's going straight to the pool room), but there you go. And it’s my birthday present from Nikki. Thanks!

My painting with the artist, Diego Isaias.


It’s been posted from Mexico. I hope I get to see it again..

Guatemalan textiles

For you “Textile-Holics” out there, it’s over to Nikki:

Lake Atitlan is particularly renowned for weaving and textiles. Each of the villages around the lake have their own techniques, patterns and production. San Juan is particularly noted for its weaving cooperatives where local women come to dye, spin, weave and sell their produce. After rummaging in the Antiguan markets to familiarise myself with the different regions and techniques, I spent a happy couple of hours under a pile of fabric and weaving at Casa Flor Ixcaco, a weaving cooperative for the women in San Juan. The amount of weaving produced in the town is quite astounding, and the great thing about CFI is that each piece identifies the artist who made it and details around the processes and materials used. The fabric is 100% cotton, all locally grown. The cotton is hand dyed using local plants and natural materials, such as eucalyptus, mint, beetroot and various flowers. Many Guatemalan woman wear traditional clothing, which means that it is not produced solely for tourists, although there are beautiful modern designs as well as traditional to chose from.”

Swatches of cloth on the wall of our hotel in Antigua.



We then got on a boat around the lake to La Lguma de Tzununa, a hotel perched up on the hill with this view.


It was a magical view. A magical smokey view. The level of deforestation around the lake was significant, which was not surprising when most of the cooking was done over a wood stove….

However, in all our time on Lake Atitlan was just the relaxing break we needed before our push north....


This Bloke is on a bit of a walk.

So there’s this bloke called Paul Salopek. He thought it would be good to follow the path of humans movement from its’ cradle, thought to be Ethiopia, through to Tierra del Fuego. He called his trek “Out of Eden” and he started in January 2013 and is expecting to finsh in 2020. At present he is walking through Kyrgyzstan.


In Australia, there is, in south western New South Wales, Lake Mungo. In 1969, Jim Bowler found the remains of what became known as Mungo Woman. Mungo Woman’s age was tested to be about 20,000 years old. In 1974, Mungo Man was found and his age was estimated to be 50,0000 years old.

Lake Mungo, New South Wales, Australia, and Mungo Man

It’s believed that human kind did not manage to start “colonising” the Americas until they go across the Bering Strait from Russia during the Last Glacial Event, about 21,000 years ago. They then spread down through to Tierra del Fuego. This could explain why the Mayan ruins are comparatively young when compared with Egypt and India. Talking of Mayan ruins, we went to see one of the best, Tikal in Guatemala.



Tikal, in northern Guatemala, is one of the most significant Mayan sites yet discovered and is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Construction by the Mayan people started around 800 BC and continued up until about 900 AD. The ruins, the size of them, their antiquity is amazing.

Looking out on the central square in Tikal.

We went for the sunrise tour leaving at 3 am. It was worth it for the light, the lack of crowds, and the serenity.

Dawn over Tikal.

Tikal is the only Mayan ruins that are in a rainforest.

Showing the sacrifice stones…. Human Sacrifice that is…



The complex was abandoned in about 900 AD. Why? Well, the theory is that the beautiful Mayans ran out raw materials. Tikal is one of the only major Mayan ruins still located the middle of a rainforest setting. Most have been substantially cleared. The area was also rainforest before the Mayans started building Tikal. To get to the limestone for building material, the Mayans needed to clear the rainforest. To make the limestone mortar, the mayans needed fire. To cook, they needed wood. A bit of a theme? Yes. By the time the complex was home to 100,000 people, it ran out of wood and was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1848 that the Guatemalan government sent out an expedition led by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut to take another look.

By the way, the temples were for astrological observations, not sacrifice. That was done on the rocks down on the ground…..


To Belize and Mexico:

The trip from Flores, the very nice town that is the jumping off point to Tikal, to Chetumal, Mexico, is via another British colonial vestige, Belize. They are part of the Commonwealth and didn’t gain independence from Britain until 1981. It was very weird to get to the border and, for the first time in 16 weeks be asked to speak English again. But only for 5 hours and then it was onto Mexico. The Lonely Planet guide to Central America includes the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, so I will too. But the next blog is going to be from our one week trip to Cuba…..


Posted by capetocape2017 08:21 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake santa semana atitlan tikal antigua

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