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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Four days in Flores

We are now on our third day at the Hotel Santa Barbara in Flores. It hardly merits the word hotel, and that’s just fine. It’s on a tiny island a five minute boat ride from the town of Flores. Our host and boat man wil take us over and pick us up whenever we want. His wife is the cook, and makes us breakfast every day, and supper when we request it.

They, and we, are the only inhabitants of the island. We met little Anderson, who must be about three, when we first arrived, but haven’t seen him since. Though there are three cabins, we are the only visitors. It’s tiny, you can walk from one side to the other in less than five minutes.

There is a one room museum between the cabins and the patio where we eat. We could see the Museo sign from across in Flores when we first arrived.  It is mentioned in the guidebook, but we hadn’t seen any visitors until today.

This morning, a boat pulled up at the dock directly in front  of our porch, with a noisy group of about twenty tourists. It was rather jarring, because we hadn’t seen any other people on the island during the two days we’ve been here.  As they exited the boat, stepping on what was a slippery bit of mud, one woman slipped and almost fell. A few minutes later, their guide slipped and fell dramatically on his butt. I don’t think he was hurt, but I’m sure he must have been embarrassed. The boat driver fetched a towel, and one of the tourists  rubbed the guy’s butt to get off the mud, prompting someone to comment something like, it’s extra for the sex.

They trotted up to the museum, and we didn’t hear them until their return a bit later. The boat driver had turned the boat sideways so people stepped right in from the dock, which she probably should have done in the first place. So no mishaps this time.
There was a second boat a bit later, with just two visitors, who also trooped  up to the museo for a while.

With all of this action, we decided it was time for us to visit the museum too. There were actually a couple of people there with a guide. They must have arrived at the other dock by the patio just around the corner. So it’s possible there have been other visitors too, that we just haven’t seen.

Yesterday we took a two hour ride around the lake, and quite possibly there were other visitors then too. But, from our perspective, it’s been quite quiet aside from today. Maybe it’s Museum Day.

There have been several boats who have just pulled up close to the island, with guides pointing and saying “iguana." We had heard that there were iguanas on the island, but hadn’t seen them. So yesterday we walked down the path, and just a few steps from our cabin, spotted a large iguana lounging on a tree branch. Then we spotted another, and another, and then a few more in a nearby tree. They had no doubt been there all along, we just hadn’t noticed them.

Among animal life here there are lots of birds, none of which I can identify, not being a bird person, aside from the ducks and the white egrets .There are two cats and a white rabbit, which Loring is guessing will soon be a meal. And a lot of chickens, which we assume are providing the eggs that we have for breakfast. The rest of breakfast, in addiiton to the eggs scrambled with ham, are fried plantains, refried black beans, sausage, toast, orange juice, and coffee.

Perhaps most interesting of all in terms of the wildlife are the bats. When we went to dinner our first night, there was a very loud sound of something pinging against the tin roof over the patio. It took us a little while to realize that they were bats, tons of them, eating the fruit in the tree and dropping the hulls on the roof.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen bats in that quantity except, many years ago, the nightly exit of them from Carlsbad Cavern at dusk. This was as impressive, if not more so, since it wasn’t just a one minute event, but continuous, and even though they were right over and at the edge of the patio, they didn’t fly near us. Definitely neater than having one in our living room a few years ago and trying to shoo it out!

We’ll eat in town tonight, as we did last night, so don’t know if we’ll hear/see the bats again. But certainly tomorrow, our last night here.

Loring is out swimming now, and I will at least  venture into one of the shallow spots just to get wet and cool off. It’s pretty hot. But I am not complaining, considering what it must be at home. And we even have ac in our cabin, an unexpected luxury.

The little museum here is just one room, but these out of the way little places are sometimes the most interesting. In the room are various cases with pottery, tools, engraved tablets, etc. Mostly they are in locked cases, but some are not. And virtually nothing is labelled, so we couldn’t tell what was from Tikal, what from other places including right here locally, etc. And besides the Mayan artifacts are a number of other items, very incongruously placed, at least in our minds. A gramaphone, a red perhaps 1960’s telephone, and most incongruous and amusing of all, a little assemblage  of a statue of Jesus, a photo of Marilyn Monroe, a photo  Tikal, another older telephone... Perhaps a modern  Maya shrine?!

In the guest book were names of people from many places, lots of Guatemalans,  but people from many places  in  Latin America, Europe, Canada. Australia, etc. Some people from the US, but not too many.

There’s also some old radio equipment, because the island once housed a radio station, I expect in the  same space that houses the museum.

Yesterday afternoon, after lounging by the cabin after our morning boat excursion, we took the boat over to Flores. There are a large number of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops in the town, but nearly no people were there. We assumed it was because most everyone goes for a long day at Tikal. But we also assumed that it would become lively at night. Yet it didn’t, although there were certainly more tourists than during the day, it still wasn’t that busy. There were a few people floating around off the dock, at least as many locals as tourists, and some people at the bar/restaurants. But not nearly enough to warrant the number of establishments. Maybe we were just too early?  We finished dinner and headed back to our little retreat by about 830.

Our dinner was good, shrimp ceviche followed by fish with a citrus sauce. The ceviche, which we shared, was huge, and probably would have been enough. The fish was also delicious, but I could barely eat all of it, and did leave behind  some of the sweetened plantains that covered it. The ceviche was different from any we’ve ever had before, in a tomato based sauce with Worcestershire sauce, along with the lime we are used to.

Loring is back fron his swim. He went all around the island, about a half  kilometer. I guess its time for me to at least dip my toes.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Our next jungle adventure, to Tikal, Guatemala January 2020

 Guatemala 2020

We are at our second stop, and fourth day, of our trip to Guatemala. We left home at 3am for a 5:30 am flight to Miami, then on to Guatemala City for a several hour layover, then a one hour flight to Flores, and about an hour’s drive to Tikal. We waited at the airport with our driver for an hour and a half for some people due to arrive on a later flight, who never came. So all in all, a long day’s travel to arrive at The Posada de la Selva,or Jungle Inn, within the Tikal Park and National Preserve.  It was about 9pm when we arrived, but despite the long day we were surprisingly not exhausted.

Tikal is one of the most renowned Maya sites. I can remember learning about it in an art history class eons ago, along with other pre-colonial sites like Machu Picchu, Teotihuican and Chichen Itza. I would never have imagined, so many decades ago, that I would eventually visit all of those sites and many other archeological sites in different parts of the world.

Coincidentally, BU is offering a course this semester on Pre Columbian archeology. I signed up, and attended the first class earlier this week, even thought I knew I ewould be missing the first month. The professor’s area of expertise is Peru, so I certainly look forward to learning from her when I get back. And she’s already asked me to make a presentation about Tikal.

Tikal is a massive site. It spreads out over 222 square miles, and it is said that at its height over 100,000 people lived there. There are plazas and areas with multiple structures and pyramids, and then a walk  through the jungle of 15 minutes or more to the next area. One of the pyramids is either the tallest, or second tallest, Mayan structure in the world. ( two different sources.) Many of them can be climbed, through steep sets of deep steps, not an easy task.  Many others are still overgrown and unexcavated, with signs saying do not climb.  Even many of the excavated ones are still covered on one or more sides. And there are many additional mounds that are totally unexcavated, but where it is clear that there are pyramids within.
Most people visit Tikal from Flores, the town that we flew into, and go to the ruins for the day. We are in Flores now, having left Tikal this morning.  We had decided to stay at the site for a few days, in order to spend more time in the ruins.  The Posada de la Selva is adjacent to the ruins, within the park. It was originally the lodging for the archeologists in the 1950’s to 1970’s .  Our room was rustic, but adequate, especially since we spent much of our time wandering through the ruins. And the public area was quite nice, with a lovely dining room, bar, even a swimming pool.

Between the two days we spent there, we covered every part of the ruins. Loring climbed three or four pyramids, I climbed two. We saw quite a bit of wildlife too, mostly monkeys and coatis. The coatis look like a cross between a monkey and a racoon. They were surprisingly unafraid, and came almost right up to us. But they didn’t seem to be begging for food. We also saw a number of spider monkeys roaming acrobatically through the trees.  The other breed common in the park are howler monkeys. We didn’t actually see any, but we certainly heard plenty of them. The first night I had no idea what their almost unearthly sound was. It sounded like a combination of a low growl and a strong wind.  Later, during the day in the ruins, we heard them from quite close, and actually recorded them.  There is not any visual except for trees and jungle, to accompany the eerie sounds.

The entrance to the park is actually about 10 or 15 miles from the ruins, because they have made the whole area a protected one. That is good, but the way they administer it is a bit strange. You have to buy the entry tickets at the entrance to the park. The hotel did it for us when we arrived. What we didn’t know, though, is that the fee for the small museum on the site is separate, and the tickets need to be bought at the park entrance. So when we tried to visit the museum they wouldn’t let us in. The hotel hadn’t made clear to us that we also had to buy separate tickets if we wanted to visit the museum, and it was too late to do so because we were leaving the next day.  Oh well, who knows how interesting the museum would have been. But it was frustrating and disappointing not to be able to find out.  I would like to have seen some of the artifacts found at the site, although from my understanding, many of them are at the museum in Guatemala City, which we won’t be going to, and also I imagine, at many foreign museums. Perhaps there are some at the MFA.

We weren’t able to discover much information about the civilization, who lived there and what their lives were like. It would have taken an enormous amount of labor, presumably by slaves, to build the many structures, and it is hard to imagine the techniques. More research on my part, and maybe my class when I return, will hopefully providence some answers. There was information  about the various rulers over time, but we didn’t ever figure out where and how the non noble inhabitants would have lived. The buildings we saw seemed mainly ceremonial. Perhaps they lived in small structures not of stone, that didn’t survive, in the areas between the many ceremonial sites. My initial google searches didn’t yield much info, but it’s got to be out there.

Early this morning we left Tikal for Flores, where we will spend the next several days. It’s a small touristed town, with a number of hotels, hostels, and restaurants.  Our hotel, the Santa Barbara, is actually on a tiny island about a five minute boat ride from the town itself. You can see the island from the town, and vice versa. It was quite quiet when we wandered around the town this afternoon after getting settled in our cabin and having some breakfast.  It was only about 6:15 am when we arrived here. The Tikal hotel has two shuttles a day, to meet the planes leaving for Guatemala City.
We assume the town picks up at night, especially since we can now hear music coming from one of the waterfront bars, and because most of them had signs indicating their happy hours.  I am sure many people are staying in town, but are gone to Tikal during the day.

Our own hotel is quite quiet. There are only three cabins, and we think we are the only people staying here. The caretaker is the boatman, and his wife cooked us breakfast this morning, and will shortly be cooking our supper.  They have a little boy. His name is Anderson.

I will stop now because there are insects starting to bite. I don’t know what they are, not mosquitos, something small. We have had very little in terms of insects, for which I am grateful. But the sun is setting, and it getting hard to see, so I will call it a day.