Friday, December 01, 2006

Guatemala Is My Happy Place

The day after paradise on Bannister Cay, Belize we docked in Santo Thomas de Castilla, Guatemala which is really the town of Puerto Barrios but that doesn't sound nearly as exotic.

Instead of beaches, the jungle poured right down to the waterline and the air was thick with smoke from the fires burning all around, we could see six or seven smoke plumes rising up through the trees continually. The port was industrial, as you can see from the video clip I took from the railing of the M.S. Veendam before we went ashore.

We boarded a bus which drove us an hour over winding roads into the hills to the bridge which spanned the Rio Dulce. At the top of the bridge our tour bus stopped and, ignoring the honking cars, waited while we got off for pictures. Here's footage from the top of the bridge.

At the foot of the bridge we boarded boats that were replicas of the Disney jungle cruise boats. In fact, the whole ride was just an re-enactment of that most fabulous of water rides (who doesn't love wiggly hippo ears?) We cruised by houses on stilts, commorants, and on up the Rio Dulce to the point where the river joins Lake Izabal and where in 1595 Spanish Conquistadors built a fort, complete with moat, canons and red tiled roof that makes you wonder where Johnny Depp and the rest of his pirate crew are hiding.

We explored the fort (footage here) before heading back and cruising to the Catamaran Island Hotel, a new resort that couldn't have been more romantic. Bungalows built on stilts over the edge of the river, palm trees waving in the breezes, beautiful grounds, a pool and outdoor dining--all for $90 a night (U.S. $).

The whole trip I was cautious as only a mother could be about eating or drinking anything off shore but Andrew--who was having so much fun speaking Spanish and had thoroughly bonded with our guide, Vicente--was afraid of offending the kind people who offered us refreshments. He filled his plate while I opted for the best Coke I've had since the Coke-with-lemon I had on the pier in the Bahamas on our honeymoon. Why does that stuff taste so good? And even better in the bottle.

Why was Guatemala so much fun? There was poverty just as there was in Belize, but somehow Puerto Barrios looked like it was trying to do something about the situation. Every indication is that now that the long era of war has settled, Guatemala is trying to join the industrialized world and get on its feet. The Mayan people we met were kind and welcoming and the jungle and waterways beautiful.

Belize may have a monopoly on snorkeling and beach resorts, but Guatemala is making a comeback and it's right around the corner.

5 comments: said...

Great post and super pictures.

Brian (coke lover) said...

The coke tastes so good because it's made with real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. I knew a guy that used to drive from L.A. to Tijuana just to stock up on "real" coke.

Tastes that way in Ethiopia too.

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

I love how you keep giving us these updates - it's armchair travel at its best!

Steve said...

I'm not sure how my email address showed up. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking me to your happy place.