Saturday, December 13, 2008

From flowers to sweet rivers

We enjoyed 24 hours of the hottest weather we’ve encountered Flores (flowers in Spanish). This city was once known as Tayasal, founded by Mayans in the 13th century. Is located on a small island about the size of 4 city blocks in the middle of Lake Peten Itza close to Tikal in northern Guatemala. In 1541, Hernán Cortés visited this island on his way to Honduras, and amazingly left peacefully. Cortés left behind a lame horse, which the Mayans fed and cared for until it died. When Spanish priests came to the island many years later, they found the Mayans worshiping a shrine representing the horse as an incarnation of one of their gods. Flores was one of the last Mayan cities left unconquered by the Spanish, but in 1697 it finally fell by an attack by boat. As in other cities, all Mayan temples and buildings were razed to the ground, and the Spanish city of Flores was founded on their ruins.

After a peaceful afternoon in Flores wandering the narrow alleys and admiring the views across the red roofs, we spent the evening on the roof of our hotel drinking dollar beers and watching a huge thunderstorm gather over the jungle. Sounds from surrounding houses, music from nearby parties, and fireworks explosions filtered through the streets while we enjoyed the warm night air, quite the change from the cold weather we’ve gotten used to in much of Guatemala. We parked our car in the alley next to the hotel for extra security, however, the security guard was so drunk he could barely stand to guard the car. The next day we gave a small tip to the very hung over security guard and continued south to the El Salvador-Guatemala border.
A hectic market pushed in from both sides of the highway as we entered the steamy town of Rio Dulce (sweet river in Spanish) where we planned to spend our last couple of days in Guatemala. We rolled up the windows and almost kept driving as hoards of men on foot and bicycle swarmed around the car, shouting about their parking lot, restaurant, or hotel. Luckily, we did not let the aggressive crowds deter us and found the lovely quiet oasis of Bruno’s marina complex, complete with hotel, pool, restaurant, and wireless internet. Steve, the manager, made us feel at home by showins us around the place, giving us some local travel info, and helping us find the perfect place to park our car. After camping for a night and chatting with all of the friendly yachters who were quite curious about our car-camper deployed outside the restaurant, we grabbed a morning water taxi and sped up the river to the small town of Livingston. Along the two hour ride, we went through gardens of water lilies, passed small thatched house on stilts, glided next to young children paddling small hollowed-out canoes, and stopped for half an hour to dip our feet in some natural hot springs.
Livingston is only accesible by boat, and sits at the mouth of the Rio Dulce (sweet river) as it empties into the Caribbean Sea. It felt like we had arrived in a different country as we clambered off the launch. Pastel colored wooden buildings line the small streets, and the people are a mix of descendants from Caribbean Islands, slaves from Africa, and indigenous Guatemalans. We spent the afternoon enjoying some of the local foods, and wandering around the town.

Later that evening we watched the dancing and chanting crowds on the street while sharing many litros of beer with our three new friends from Denmark and Colombia. We met Mix on our boat ride into town, and Ben and Elisabeth ended up talking to the three of us as we sat at a table on the sidewalk. When Ben found out that we were driving to South America, he talked about how impressed he was that we would do something so daring, and kept asking us questions about our trip. After answering his questions, I asked him how he ended up here in Livingston, and he explained that he sailed from Colombia. Later in the evening, we found out that a few years ago he sailed around the world, and in the middle of the Pacific the keel of his sailboat broke causing the ship to sink. The rescue team found his rescue beacon floating in the open sea and abandoned the search, believing everyone drowned. After 3 days at sea in a liferaft with his two sailing companions, he luckily managed to contact a nearby ship via shortwave radio. Funny that a man who almost died sailing around the world thought we were being adventuresome.

We returned by speed boat the next morning to the town of Rio Dulce, and spent one last night at Bruno’s before we said adios to Guatemala and drove into El Salvador.

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