Category Archives: Guatemala

Travel News : US tourist hacked to death in Guatemala

My Views : Unfortunate that beautiful Guatemala gets terrible news once again. While I was there on my central american trip, four belgian tourists got kidnapped and it was a big news among fellow travellers. Given the history of violence and civil war for 30 years, there might still be residual effects. I was told west part of Guatemala near the borders most people would carry firearms everywhere or possess guns in their houses. East part of Guatemala along the Caribbean have problems of piracy. Still Guatemala is relatively a safe country if you are prudent in travelling, have decent common sense, other times its just having pure bad luck.

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Mayan Ruins at Yaxha

Yaxha Maya RuinsYaxha Ruins, Peten State, Guatemala

Yaxha is huge, with many complexes, most still covered in mounts. It is said that this is the Las Vegas/New York or Megapolis of its time. Many came as traders or visitors. A pity I could only spend 2 odd hours here as I was on a guided tour, it took 2 hours to get here. I had an informative guide who gave details of the place and a little on how the mayans lived as well as his own theories. Coming here is challenging. You would need to arrange for private transportation bring you to this remote place.

Yaxha Maya Ruins

The highest point often belongs to some king or high royalty. The view here overlooks the River Yaxha. This city is one of the very few places that was built near some natural water source, perhaps because this was the trading capital of the mayan world and the river led to other parts of the region as well as Mexico. Somewhere along the river was also where the reality show, Survivor – Guatemala was shot.

The woods at Yaxha

The unescavated part of the woods filled with young ceibu trees.

Yaxha Maya Ruins
El Mirador – the lookout platform, after a fair climb up, you could see the tree canopies as well the whole place, with a tiny peak of the highest complex in the area. The tree in silouette is a ceibu tree part family of the ceiba, one of the sacred trees in the mayan world. While up here, the howler monkeys were belching out their very intensive calls, it was as if they were serenading to me, howler monkey style.

The woods at Uaxactun

My travel companion of this part of the adventure

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins

Its quite lovely how the trees are growing amists the ruins keeping the place cool and protected from the blazing hot sun, and most of the ruins here are left in their mounts. These are tended by the very friendly locals who prune and upkeep the place on a daily basis.

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Mayan Ruins at Uaxactun

Forest at Uaxactun Maya Ruins
The woods of Uaxactun

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
The woods

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
Grupo ruins, as with all Guatemalan mayan ruins, they are tastefully restored with trees growing between the ruins. Quite unlike the Mexican sites where it is mostly bare and exposed.

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
One of the major astrological study complexes where the stars are aligned with, I spend part of the evening starglazing at some of the complexes.

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
Shows the difference between the exposed buildings and the ones still in their mounts. This site possibility residential quarters with many tiny rooms.

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
As with all sites, there is always a complex at the highest point looking over at the whole area. A tall building possibilty the king’s residence. The complex over looks the town of Uaxactun and beyond.

Uaxactun Mayan Ruins
Most ruins exposed and escavated have long collasped The stones are left as it is and not restored.

Seeing Lake Atitlan in Infrared

Infrared and Normal compared
click for bigger view

It takes time to get to know her, spend a few more days with her than the usual 3 days, Lake Atitlan will slowly reveals herself to you. She is truly gorgeous and magical, often labelled as one of most beautiful lakes in the world.

Turn out I was not much of an early riser while at San Marcos de laguna. Even after setting up my alarm countless of mornings, I still could not make it for the sunrise at 5am. Only at dawn does the cloud cover disppear over the volcanos. And so I resorted to my infrared filter to uncover the beauty of this beautiful lake. This was taken late in the morning about 10am. On infrared, it reveals a little more of San Pedro Volcano, and you probably can make out part of Volcano Toliman

The only morning I managed to wake up in time for sunrise, was also the morning I did not bring my camera out.

Infrared Images of Lake Atitlan

Lago de Atitlan
The docks and the two volcanos, Toliman, San Pedro(left)
view from San Marcos de laguna
Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Infrared Image in monochrome

Lago de Atitlan
The docks and the two volcanos, Toliman, San Pedro(left)
view from San Marcos de laguna
Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Color Infrared Image

Tikal Ruins in Infrared

Tikal Gran Plaza in diptsch
Tikal Gran Plaza in diptych
view from Acropolis Centro
Petén, Guatemala
click for bigger view

Tikal Gran Plaza
Tikal Great Plaza View from Acropolis Centro
Petén, Guatemala

Semuc Champey in Infrared

Infrared landscape images of Semuc Champey, Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín, Guatemala

Semuc Champey
The pools

The Woods of Semuc Champey
The woods

Semuc Champey
The private pool

Semuc Champey
The rapids of Rio Cahabón

All images taken by Hoya IR filter and Ricoh GRD

Wanna see Maximon?

Santiago, Lago de Atitlan, West Guatemala

“Wanna see Maximon?” chanted all the young touts running towards me as I barely stepped out of the ferry at Santiago, Lake Atitlan.

This deity of the Mayans has become such a huge tourist attraction that every local boy and man you meet would offer to bring you to the current abode that houses Maximon. A rather worldy street punk of no more than 10 years old managed to get my business after I bargain him down to Q$5 (quetzal) to bring me to the current property. Every year, the statue of this cross between a mayan, gringo, catholic god chooses a family house to reside in.

After a short walk to its current residence, once again I was asked Q$10 for entrance to see this rather strange looking effigy. In the same room as Maximon, there was an effgy of a dead jesus after he was crucifed, bleeding limbs and all. It seemed quite strange but not usual to mix cathoism figures with mayan deities.

There were chants going on in this tiny quarter, two men were kneeled down giving offerings to the Deity. One had a white veil drapped over him, had I not given him a second glance, I would have thought it was a lady quietly chanting away. The other one had a mobile phone stuck to his ear, constantly spitting in front of the effigy while having his phone conversation and in between that, taking huge puffs from his big fat cigar before spitting again. Obviously a multi-tasker of sorts, he might conducting some ritual but you would think that one who does not have good hygiene. The floor in front of him was covered in huge wet puddles of his thick spit. (You can probably make out some puddle at the far left bottom corner of the photo)

Took out my camera and snapped this only shot in the room before I was once again asked for more money. To take a photo of Maximon I would have to offer him more dinero pointed out by one of rather sharp faced attendant, I declined and left after lingering a little bit more looking at rest of the catholic effigies.

Paper cutting decorations adorned the house which Maximon currently resides to announce its presence.

Here’s the whole story of Maximon by Wikipedia

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In this village call Uaxactun

A typical village house in Uaxactun

It had been a little challenge just coming here to Uaxactun, the northern part of Petén, Guatemala and part of the Tikal National Park. You pay Q$25 to enter the village via the Tikal Ruins. I got to know about this seldom visited part of the jungle and became quite obsessed about it, needless to say, it took much effort asking around how to get here as I got many different answers.

There is only one public bus per day and it leaves from Santa Elena, stopping at El Remate at 3pm and Tikal at 4.30pm and arriving at the Mayan village around 6pm. One public bus out of the place at 6am in the morning. Nothing else leaves unless you are lucky to hitch a ride from a virtually non-existent private transportation. You would be stranded for at least 1 night

The 2 hour bus ride turned into a 3 hour long journey with intermittent waits for passengers and stops by the Bus attendant climbing on top of the bus with his machete, cutting up the creeping jungle all ready to engulf the only limestone paved route that links civilisation to the village. Come rainy season, this road would be flooded and transportation may not even come through.

The area around Tikal has been protected since 1990 by the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The reserve was intended to stop timber companies, farmers, and ranchers from cutting down the trees. Once you are out the protected zone, you see massive deforestation and agricultural crops growing everywhere.

Uaxactun pronounced as Wa-sha-toon was coined 8-stones by an American archaeologist back in the 1920s. This place according to the popular Mayan Archeology theory was said to have been an astrological learning place for Tikal elites. There are ruins scattered around the village and the villagers are happy to point the roads leading to them if you ask.

As you enter the village, you see a large field in the center once a air-strip constructed by the Carnegie Institution that had conducted archaeological excavations back in the 1940s. This was the place where Mayan archaeologists embark on long difficult treks into the thick jungle searching for lost ruins.

As with any typical jungle village, houses grew surrounding this large defunct air strip, now being used as ground for goats and cows grazing, and children playing soccer.

Now the village is used as a transit stop-over place for all sorts of people, poor Guatemalans on their way to Mexico and United States in search of work, rich American Game hunters sporting exotic jungle animals for fun, Mayan archeology enthusiast studying the abandoned ruins glyphs and braving 3 day treks to the remote El Mirador ruins.I met them all in this tiny strip of a village, the only visitors while I was there.

No one else ever visits this place, you might be lucky seeing a tourist here every few weeks. On the good side, you literally have the whole ruins site to yourself, although most of the ruins are in a pile of grassy mole hill.

I met a group of Guatemalans in the bus on the way to the village and met them again at one of the only 3 restaurants in the village. A friendly Guatemalan soon introduced himself, speaking with a clear mid-western American accent. After a brief conversation, he soon revealed that he was acting as a ‘tour guide’ to these group of Guatemalans. They were spending a night at the restaurant, making their way to the Mexico border and then onwards to the United States seeking their riches and their ideal new American life.

Preparing for the typical meal in the kitchen consist of rice, chicken, avocado

He was quite proud and pretty open about what he was doing, happily chatting about what he does for a living. Being a guide for these poor people soon to be illegal workers in the United States, (should they be so lucky to make it across the borders.) He worked near Chicago, spending 4 years learning his english ; boasting he earned US$150 a day tending a ranch.

“We make sure they will have proper papers crossing the Mexico border, I have connections that will ensure safe passage for my group at this border. Without me, they will definitely be caught by the Mexican police and extorted more money, probably jailed. Tomorrow morning they will take my truck onwards to the border, we have connections here so they will be safe. Then once across the border, they will be taken to where-ever they want to go in the States.”

The group did not understand a word of english, were a quiet yet accommodating bunch, I had only managed communicating with them in my raw basic spanish. I was surprised they even allowed me to take photos of them. It was only the family working in the restaurant wary about thi foreigner talking to the group.

In other parts of Guatemala the average pay was between Q500 (US$75)-1000 (US$130) a month. It was no wonder these poor workers were risking their lives for a chance to work in the United States for a better life for themselves and their families.

My heart sank for them, I wished them luck and was gestured by the owner of the restaurant into a separate room for my dinner. I do hope they make it to United States and achieve their American dream.

Having their meal at the very same room where they would spend the night before moving onto the next destination

The only possessions they had, light tiny bags for their long journey

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