Guatemala and its Caribbean Treasure
"Seeing Snakes Make You Stronger"
One of the most unusual aspects of my visit to the area was the encounter with wildlife. At times that meant facing down a lifelong phobia of snakes.
By the Lighthouse
Knowing I had some rough travel ahead my first stop was the Punta de Manabique and the Manabique Resort. The place is big and very self-contained; pool, beach, restaurants and rooms with full kitchens. A marina is a part of the complex as is a faux church modeled after one in Antigua. Really the kind of place to hide away. The Punta though offers some terrific wetlands to explore via boat. Crocs and mangroves as well as lagoons are the features.
The nearby Puerto Barrios is a working port straight from the United Fruit Company days. It has long wide streets filled with Caribbean style wooden houses, most long in the tooth, but that is its charm. It is here where you can get boat transportation to Belize, Livingston or to the Punta itself. For info on Amatique Bay.
Livingston used to be raucous, lively and a wee bit scary. Now these days leave out the scary and replace with fun. Increased police presence tamed the wilder aspects.
Up the River with a Paddle
From Livingston my guide Ivania and I loaded up a small boat and headed up the Rio Dulce through a spectacular gorge. The La Cueva de la Vaca walls were covered with great tangles of jungle foliage and the sounds of tropical birds. It also had multiple small shrimping boats with two men hauling nets into rowboat-sized vessels. Along the shore were places where hot springs bubbled.
Before long we came to the entry to the Rio Tatin. This small tributary offers the chance to head through thick jungle and incredible scenery. Near the entrance is the Finca Tatin, a small jungle B&B that is smack dab in the middle of the rain forest. They offer dormitories as well as bungalows. Link up at fincatatin.centramerica.com.
By far the biggest thrill of the Rio Titan is the Asociation Ak TenamitSchool. This NGO facility is a school that works with the Q’eqchi Mayan villages. The students spend 90 days on and 15 off learning about farming and tourism.
I got to go beyond the craft store and into the main school; it was so worth the walk. If you are interested in helping e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forgive not Forget
I usually like Lonely Planet’s take on destinations. I recently stayed at Hacienda Tijax and, however, found their take not the way it was during my visit. tijax.com As I checked in I saw a French couple fleeing. While the property could be great the staff was not. The location near the Fronteras, Izabel, is great, its concept perfect, and its delivery poor. In theory you can explore a rubber plantation and canopy walk as well as get jungle info. Best I can say was adequate if you do not need any interaction or assistance. It is only reached by boat. Some plusses were the bats, crocs and view from the small restaurant /bar area lakeside. A better choice perhaps is Catamaran Island Hotel. CatamaranIsland.com It is pricier but well run with its cabins built over the water and on its own island.
The Grand Izabel
Images of the Bocas del Polochic wildlife reserve are forever etched in my mind. The reserve is one of the few wetlands left in the country. Thank goodness for that. Its creeks, jungles and farm pastures combined with its wildlife are awe-inspiring. At the confluence of the lake and Rio Dulce is the San Felipe de Lara Castle. The construction of the Spanish Colonial fortress dates from 1595 and was built to protect Spanish ships from pirates. Today it is a museum that offers good insight to those conquest days. Nearby Quirigua takes you back even farther, to pre-Hispanic Mayan days. This is a relative newcomer on the Mayan Trail.
Living Mayan Style
The highlight of my outside the usual Guatemala Caribe carouse was a unique and special place. One where life among the Mayan people is still possible. It is not for casual trendies. It is real and honest and requires dedication.
I have never been so proud to see a signpost stating, “Sponsored by the people of the US Aid,” as I did hiking to Camp Mucbila’I. The camp is a project where you stay in one of three dorm style huts.
They are wonderfully constructed and well equipped with solar lighting and mosquito netting. The simple but ample meals are cooked over a fire and served in a small hut. The hut also has a display about the caves and the ancient Mayans.
In the afternoon head with inner tube and flashlight down the river and through another set of caves; the float is amazing. Sun filters down through some limestone holes worn through the emerald green trees. It is a mind-altering moment! On your hike back to camp you pass through the local village and a lifestyle that dates far back in time. It made a fitting end to a Guatemala that is seldom visited but surely will take its rightful place soon.
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