Log #56b Back to Veleda Part 2

November 10, 2012 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 56, The Logs

Anchored off Tortugal Marina

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Nov. 11, 2012

Hi Folks,

This log finishes our touring around Guatemala, and we are now at anchor up here near town, planning to laze around for a week or so before heading out into the Caribbean. There are so many pictures I want to send with this log that I will send a few extra in a separate E-mail.

Veleda is in good shape and we are slowly doing a few more maintenance items as we leisurely anchor near town. There is a large sailing community here with a 0730 morning net over the VHF radio. I will have time to get caught up on my logs of our trailer trip across Canada last summer, as I believe I left off at Canada Day in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. If you haven’t seen the website of that last Log #55d and e you might like to call it up to see the extra pictures I put on it. I can put more pictures into the logs on the website (www.veledaiv.ca) than I can when sending them out directly by E-mail.

Incidentally, there was an earthquake in Guatemala a couple of days ago, but we felt nothing here. Guatemala is prone to earthquakes as it has many volcanoes and is at the junction of three or four tectonic plates which can shake things up when they move.

All the best,

Aubrey

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Log #56b Back to Veleda Part 2

Anchored off Tortugal Marina

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Nov. 10, 2012

We took a local bus to Biotopo del Quetzal in the mountains north east of Guatemala City, staying at a pleasant inn near the entrance to the park trails. We initially planned doing two trails, one the afternoon we arrived and another next day. However the first and shorter (1800 m) trail was arduous enough, as it went up a very steep incline (well marked and with cut steps) of this lush high altitude cloud forest, across, then down. About two thirds the way up, Judy was almost ready to quit, as we did not know how much more up was on the trail; however, it was not much further until the path leveled out. Although we saw no birds, the thick tropical cloud forest vegetation was impressive. There were a few small waterfalls cascading down crevices in the rocks. A small unattended museum had tired displays of birds and vegetation, with little information in English. The inn where we stayed was quite pleasant and economical. In the morning before we left we saw more birds around the office and parking area than we saw in the park. There were a few other birders who pointed out various birds, and sharpened our powers of observation. The highlight of the morning was the sighting of a quetzal, sacred to the Mayans and which gave its name to the Guatemalan currency, the Quetzal (8 Quetzals to $1.00 or 100 Q equals $12.50 at the current exchange rate). Unfortunately we just missed the bus returning to Guatemala City and faced the prospect of waiting in the drizzle another hour. Instead, we flagged down a local collectivo, and were squeezed in this minivan with 14 others. At La Cumbre Santa Elena we got off to catch a larger colourful but crowded local bus to a different bus station in Guatemala City.

The local buses are crowded old school buses (mostly old Blue Bird school buses from the U.S.) that have been painted up to suit the individual owners, in jaunty flashy colours and with loud air horns liberally used to attract customers at the many stops in towns. I think more money has been spent on their paint jobs and horns than on the engines or seating. They belch out black fumes as they dart in and out of traffic, their horns blaring and the drivers’ assistants yelling out their destinations through the open doors to see if any passengers await before stopping the bus at crowded bus stops. A trip through town on one of these buses is an experience in a cacophony of loud engines belching smoke, air horns signalling arrivals or blasting at other vehicles, assistants yelling their destinations and hawkers aboard crying out their wares, everything from fruits and candies to pills, supplements, and cell phones.

Log_56b_Flashy_local_bus        PB010166       Log_56b_Bus_belching_fumes_in_Guatemala

I have made an album in the gallery section of the website called The Buses of Guatemala that has a large number of pictures of Guatemala City buses. Check it out.

As we were back in the city by noon hour we walked up the large pedestrian mall to the National Palace, passing the mock battlements of the once dreaded National Police Headquarters in which many were tortured and disappeared during the 30 year civil war between 1966 and 1996.

Log_56b_National_Police_Headquarters

The colonial architecture of Palacio Nacional and its two arched and colonnaded courtyards was impressive.

Log_56a_Presidential_Palace
Log_56b_Courtyard_of_the_National_Palace                   Log_56a_Side_collonade_in_Nacional_Palacio

The Catedral Metropolitan has an attractive facade and dome over the main altar, but its sparse ornamentations do not make it an impressive interior. However the twelve square pillars out front are inscribed with the names of thousands of people who were “disappeared” during the civil war, a sobering testimony to the atrocities that occurred during that horrendous period.

                            Log_56a_National_Cathedral
Log_56_Cathedral_columns_listing_names_of_the_disappeared                Log_56b_Cathedral_pillar_listing_names_of_the_disappeared

On All Saints Day, Nov. 1st, we took another crowded local bus us out to the Mayan village of Sumpango where we followed the crowds to their annual Feria del Barrilete Gigante (Festival of the Gigantic Kite). The bus was so crowded that Judy had a small Mayan child on her lap for much of the trip to relieve the mother in the crush of passengers. The kites were indeed gigantic, at 13 m (40 feet) wide or tall, made from tissue paper and bamboo poles, with intricate colourful designs. Unfortunately there was not enough wind to get the larger kites aloft, but they made a dramatic backdrop to the community field, propped up while dozens of smaller ones were flown with gay abandon over the cemetery to speak with the souls of the dead.

Log_56b_Giant_Kites       Log_56b_Sumpango_Kite

The cemetery itself was a colourful melange of whitewashed and painted cinder block crypts or burial mounds which families were repainting, placing floral arrangements in their family plots while others flew kites from the pathways between the graves. I think it is a delightful occasion to remember the deceased.

Log_56b_Kite_flying_over_cemetery             Log_56b_Mayan_family_at_family_crypt

One of our last excursions was up to Pacaya, an active volcano 25 km south east of Antigua. (We stayed there overnight as the shuttle went from Antigua, and we were in the town the day before.) Until we got there we thought we had to climb the volcano, uncertain as to whether we were up to it, but found out there were horses we could hire at 100 Q (Quetzals) up and 100 Q down. Judy took one up and down while I hired for up only and walked down. As we climbed higher we were awed by the dramatic vistas of volcanic cones in the distance, some with smoke wafting from the tops. In a verdant valley below we could see smoke or steam coming from a fissure and were told that there was a geothermal electricity plant operating over there.

Log_56b_Range_of_volcanoes            Log_56b_Judy_on_Mount_Pacaya

We got to the lava fields and left the horses to climb the rest of the way on foot. We didn’t climb up to the rim, and were not able to see any red boiling lava. We saw and felt several steam vents and hot surface rocks from the fissures extending into the depths of the volcano. These crevices were so hot that we toasted marshmallows in the natural stone ovens. An optimistic sight was the occasional flower or weed that broke through the black lava rock to bloom in the air, as a promise that the lava will break down into the rich fertile soil known to develop on the slopes of volcanoes around the world.

Log_56b_Roasting_marshmallows_in_geothermal_vent                            Log_56b_New_life_in_the_lava_rocks

Log_56b_Volcano_flowers_2         Log_56b_Volcano_flowers_3
Horses were brought for Judy and another woman who chose to ride up and back. The group had one more ridge to ascend, the last and steepest yet (Judy went by horse.). I was exhausted and realized how out of shape I was, or maybe it is because I am 74 years old. The trip down was not bad. One long steep hillside below the lava field was carpeted with a half foot layer of dirt and pebbles that we had to carefully negotiate. By balancing ourselves uphill, like skiers, we would plunge a foot downhill to sink in several inches and slide a foot or two downhill with each step. Getting into a rhythm of step, slide, lean back, shift weight onto the other foot step down, we slithered our way 200 yards down the gravelly slope. At the bottom on a solid trail we all stopped to rest and empty out our shoes.

We had a couple of hours back in Antigua before our shuttle left for Guatemala City, and roamed this picturesque town that was the capital of Guatemala before being badly damaged by an earthquake in 1773.

Log_56a_Volcano_behind_Antigua

Its bumpy cobblestoned streets are lined with treacherous narrow sidewalks, the outer walls of the single storied buildings dotted with an interesting variety of ornate double doorways, and windows tastefully ensconced behind protective iron grids. I have taken many pictures of the grilled windows and aged doors of Antigua that I will put in the Album section of my website.

PA310117                 Log_56b_Window_in_Antigua

In 1979 UNESCO designated Antigua a World Heritage site. As I mentioned in a previous log, I wish we had used Antigua as our base of travels rather than Guatemala City. However, we have travelled throughout Guatemala and seen much of its verdant countryside many of its main attractions.

Next day we trundled our luggage a couple of blocks to the bus station and had a comfortable four hour ride to Fronteras. Rather than heading to Veleda that afternoon, we stayed at Bruno’s for the night, allowing us to do some grocery shopping in the morning, then met with Chico from Jennifer’s for a  50 minute launcha trip to Veleda, placidly waiting at her mooring in Gringo Bay. We did not like Bruno’s accommodations. It was the most we paid for a room yet in Guatemala, 300 Q (still only $37.00). The beds were not made up, but had folded sheets with which we made up our bed. There was no chair in the room, but it had a nice balcony with chairs and a hammock. The TV remote for which we had to put down a deposit of 50Q did not work, but we do not bother with TV anyways.

It was good to get back on Veleda, except I was sick with some kind of intestinal bug. After an uncomfortable night of vomiting and diarrhea I was weakened for the next couple of days; Judy came down with a similar ailment a day later. We don’t know what caused the problems, but we have been fine since then. Although there is more work living on a sailboat, we still enjoy it more than the comfort of our trailer. The panoramic vistas from the cockpit of Veleda at anchor or on a mooring are greater than any trailer park can provide. I feel a greater tranquility lounging in the cockpit of Veleda than I could get from any collapsible chair in a campsite. It is good to be back aboard.