12.10.08 Finca Ixobel to Quirigua Ruins, Guatemala

Quirigua Travel Blog

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12.10.08 Finca Ixobel to Quirgia Ruins, Guatemala


Coming to you from Survivor Guatemala!  Jazy and I have decided that we are really in a game -we’ve done Survivor Mexico, Survivor Belize, and tomorrow we attempt Survivor Honduras.  Right now, we continue our account of Survivor Guatemala.


This is a lovely country.  The beautiful rolling hills, palms, lush jungles and Mayan Ruins.  The people are lovely too, gentle and kind with ready smiles.


It was with sadness this morning that we left Finca Ixobel.  That is one special place.  The kids are already scheming for how they can return to volunteer there when they get older.  Al and Anna, of NW Lazy Daze Group fame, emailed me last night that their daughter had volunteered there in 1995!  I was so excited, but by the time I asked the nice owner, Carole, about their daughter, I’d forgotten her full name.  Anyway, it is a special place and we were very sad to leave.


Block of America apparently put a hold on my Visa card again.  I revved up email again and dear Ned said he’d handle it.  The bill for breakfasts and dinners (delicious) and camping, horseback riding, etc, just about used up all my Guatemalan cash that I’d gotten from a gas station ATM just before Finca Ixobel.  I was SO happy I’d gotten it out. 


By this afternoon, I could retrieve more cash with my card from a machine in Rio Dulce.  It is interesting that places only take Visa around here, not Mastercard, and certainly not American Express.  And really it is 20 cash places to every one place that takes Visa.  They are really rare in this cash-society.


We were able to fill Ciao’s water tank at a hose bib behind the banos (bathrooms) before we left, which was good.  We have many days of dry camping to go before a “real” RV park in Costa Rica.  We still need to figure out how to empty the black tank.  I didn’t get the macerator figured out in time to bring it, but do have some 5-gallon canisters if I need to tote them to a bathroom (yuck). 


Most of the bathrooms in this area are rather primitive and all toilet paper goes in a waste basket beside the toilet.  Some toilets are “bucket-flush,” which I think means that you scoop a bucketful of water from the water barrel nearby and dump it into the toilet tank so that it has the water needed to flush with gravity assisting.  Most of the toilets do not have a seat on them, just the porcelain.  I’m really not sure if one sits on that or not- it looks a bit uncomfortable.  So we love Ciao Baby’s facilities!  While we use chemical that is environ-friendly in the tank, we’d rather avoid “jungle dumps” if at all possible.  But how to do so… there is the mystery!


We started down the road and just as our notes instruct, there was a police checkpoint.  We were right at the SW corner of Belize and apparently people try to cross illegally there.  Well, I followed Harriet’s instructions to drive right past the long line of trucks parked there (and someone kind did give the wave-around too, so I could blame him if I was wrong), and we arrived at the front of the line. 


I wish I had a video of the police officer’s faces when they saw us with our strange RV!  Their jaw dropped opened and they smiled.  One came around and shook my hand gently and after I did my typical “Los siento, mi Espanol es malo,” he smiled and asked “Que pais?” and I sort of got out “Estados Unidos” and he said something in Spanish like “Welcome to my Country” and I said “Bonita Pais” (which he corrected to Bonito, but he seemed pleased with the compliment) and we smiled and he shook my hand again and waved us on, wishing us a good trip.  No passport or document check.  Not very intimidating these handsome, helpful policemen! 


Note:  we have been really surprised at how few checkpoints there are compared to Mexico, where they are a normal form of state border crossings, as well as throughout the states.  It’s been really nice.  Also, not once in Belize nor Guatemala have we ever felt in fear for our safety, that anyone wished us malice, or that we should be on high alert at any time.  I have felt that before, but it has not happened in Central America so far.  It also is highly helpful that our golden notes inform us of upcoming checkpoints.  Then we are not surprised because we definitely don’t want unofficial checks by off-duty officers (or otherwise) working on their own to raise a few bucks.  So recognizing official checkpoints helps us feel much better about them (thanks Arlene and Joe!)


So the plan was to go a whole 60 miles to Rio Dulce, park at Bruno’s Under the Bridge and hang with the Yachting group, walk into town, and take a boat trip to Livingston.  Good plan… didn’t happen.  Here’s what happened.


We got to Rio Dulce at lunchtime.  Very BUSY!  Loved the town and found it energetic and full of interesting stalls.  Terrific town for exploring!  However, we were driving through it and things were SO tight, at one point I reached out to pull in my mirror.  It was the truck’s turn (18-wheeler) to go by and I, and the police truck behind me, waited while he wiggled through. 


See, people just park on the side of the only highway, even if they completely block one lane, if they feel like it.  I think it’s so interesting!  While convenient for the participants, driving through the maze is very difficult. 


However, we did make it through unscathed and I hope Jazy got some good pictures of that really incredible situation.  Fortunately, I was not too tense about it because I have heard others talk of getting in tough situations and you just do what you have to do, even if police are there helping direct you as you inch by big trucks.  There are very few situations we cannot get out of, even if it is a bit embarrassing. We’re used to that by now!


About the time we breathed out, we’d missed the turnoff to Bruno’s.  Directions were tricky to understand.  There is a dirt road just to the right of the big bridge (if you’re headed south like we were).  Apparently, you dart off to the right just before going up onto the bridge.  There were people and trucks and people in trucks cluttering up that dirt road, so even if we’d known to take that dirt road, I’m not sure we’d have made it.  After that, instead of taking the first left off that dirt road, you should take the 2nd left if you’re in an RV because you cannot fit under the bridge at the first cross-under.  Then you do a returno or something like that. 


Not happening.  We couldn’t fathom returning to that lunch crowd, so we got gas at the Shell station and tried to find Hotel Escondido that some caravans have used, just past the Shell station (there is only one road, so it’s not hard to look for it).  We only saw one place that it could be and it looked closed.  Besides, by this point it was probably a mile and a half out of town with no ambiance at all. 


It was just 1pm, probably too late for the boat ride (which sounded expensive at $40 pp) and so we kept going.  We’d find our own place to spend the night (there are no formal campgrounds for hundreds of miles).  So we turned south on CA-11 on the beautiful, winding, hilly two-lane highway in good condition.  There are many trucks on the road, which means either we are passing the chugging trucks or they are passing us.  It is quite a game of Chicken! 


We input the coordinates for our next UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quirigua, which are Mayan Ruins.  Fortunately, there is a wonderful, new, paved, wide road there.  We’d been told “small rigs only”, but since the road is better now, buses were here and at the end of the 4 km road through Del Monte plantations lining the street.  It is a lovely site with extra parking across the street too.


So at 3pm we bought our 80 Q per person ruins tickets (free for Lia) and the man told us to just pull onto the grass inside the site and park.  He lifted the gate arm with a rope so we could enter.


We are now under the lovely trees.  Jazy and I returned to ask permission to park here for the night and he said “Sure, no problem!”  It is safe with a gate and a night watchperson, supposedly.  There are picnic tables, trash cans and a nice family having a cookout nearby.


The ruins at Quirigua are relatively small and park-like.  Other than a Norwegian cruise ship group, we had the place basically to ourselves.  It’s delightful, but hot and sticky.  The grounds are beautiful with ancient Ceiba trees towering like monster oaks.  We enjoyed the ancient plaza and the many stelea that are protected under palapas with roofs of palm fronds.  They were very impressive, including the steale for which this site is known, which is the tallest in the Mayan world.  They were intricately carved and beautiful!


Then we returned to talk with the artesians.  They seem so relieved when we say “Buenos Tardes” that I wonder how many times I said “Hola” before I learned that.  Anyway, we got a beautiful work of art (a woven cloth) made by a lady who was there (200 Q) and Jazy and Lia both got purses which they love.  Charles didn’t want anything.  The artesians were very personable and kind.  It is interesting how much nicer the artesians are at smaller sites than at the larger sites, like at Tulum and Tikal where it is big business and they seem rather jaded and annoyed with the tourists.


So I sit here typing, the kids are reading and iPod listening.  They wrote a paper today on what they’ve learned during our travels for Part II heading south.  It’s always interesting to see what impressed them.  I have a view of the banana trees completely covering the field across the street.  Behind the fields are blue mountains with thick, blue clouds hanging overhead.  We are waiting for it to cool down a little before we decide on the frozen pizza or the Mac & Cheese.  Ah, where are Finca Ixobel dinners now?


GPS:  I found the coordinates on the Nuvi 650.  Whenever you search for coordinates, your current location is showing in the boxes.  Simple enough!  Then to change the coordinates, you punch them in, making sure you use the right format, because it makes a difference in the location.  If you buy nothing more to bring with you on this trip, bring a GPS with the ability to input coordinates! 


Oh, and bring the books and printouts from the updates on the websites (like 99 Days to Panama) so you have the GPS info.  The UNESCO site also has the GPS coordinates for all their sites.  Our golden notes have GPS coordinates.  Aaron and Amy’s updates and Kathy and Ron’s updates from their trips to CA have all their camping coordinates.  I cannot say enough about having the GPS and the coordinates.  What a tool!


Here are our coordinates for tonight:

N15’ 16.435, W89’2.536 at Quirigua Ruins (under the trees, inside the gate)


We’re planning to head the 110 miles to Copan tomorrow.  I hear the El Florida border crossing is so low-key that there is just a string across the road to mark the boundary.  Will let you know how our border crossing goes.  Until then, goodnight from “Survivors of (beautiful) Guatemala.”


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photo by: islander23