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Guatemala Highlands and Copan Honduras

Author: lynncarol
Date of Trip: January 2010

Flying into Guatemala, the cloud-cover broke and we had our first glimpse of the country: So many mountains and so few roads! This was definitely going to be an adventure for my husband, Lynn, and myself. Guatemala City International Airport was a pleasant surprise: practically brand new and sparkling clean. (Bathroom attendants immediately pounced on errant water spots left on the sink).

After clearing customs, we selected one of the waiting taxis to drive us to our time-share accommodation in Antigua. Our driver seemed nice, but was he really taking us where we wanted to go? (There were dire warnings in our guidebook about utilizing airport cabbies who might overcharge, or worse, even rob tourists)! Traffic getting out of the city was horrible, and weren’t we spending an awfully long time on the road? Finally, a sign to Antigua appeared. (Apparently, the drive from Guatemala City to Antigua takes, even in the best of circumstances, almost forty-five minutes).

Our time-share condominium was located within the Soleil Resort but our driver seemed uncertain as to the exact location of the place and stopped several times for directions. When he ultimately delivered us safely to our destination, we were very relieved (and the cabbie got a nice tip for his efforts). Fortunately, everyone at the front desk spoke English. An older, frazzled-looking American couple was simultaneously checking in: Their taxi from the airport had been involved in a traffic accident! Based on our preliminary experience with Guatemalan drivers, this came as no surprise. (Note to self: Walk whenever possible).

The grounds of The Soleil were lovely with two pools and a tennis court set amidst a profusion of manicured greenery, tile-work, fountains and Spanish arches. We accessed our building via an open-air passageway covered in an unfamiliar, yet beautiful flowering vine. But alas, once inside the condo the illusion was shattered: Stained rugs, shabby furniture and cracked bathroom floors. Oh well, at least the three rooms were spacious, our bed was comfortable and all plumbing worked. Fortunately, the dilapidated state of our time-share didn’t extend to the main public rooms and our chicken dinner eaten in their dining room was delicious.

With an altitude of 5029 ft., Antigua is known as the ‘city of eternal spring’ and evenings get quite chilly. It was then we noticed the absence of any heat or cooling mechanisms in our rooms. Good thing I brought some sweaters (which, except for one day in the jungles of Tikal, I rarely took off the entire time in Guatemala). Meanwhile Lynn, who hates to be hot was in his element.

In the 17th century, Antigua was the original capital of Spanish Mesoamerica (currently Mexico and Central America). Rimmed by three volcanoes it boasted cathedrals, convents and monasteries, as well as lofty government buildings and grandiose private homes, reflective of the immense wealth generated from Spanish conquests. After a huge earthquake in 1773 destroyed much of the city, the capital was moved to Guatemala City. Not until the mid twentieth century was Antigua declared a National Monument and eventually, a World Heritage Site.

Since then, much effort has been expended by the Guatemalan government to make the city a big tourist mecca and Antigua has morphed into a charming blend of ruins, restorations, restaurants and shops accessed along cobblestone streets. The ‘old city’ is less than ten blocks in any direction from the central plaza and well within walking distance of our resort. Clutching our map, we were off to explore. In addition to ‘seeing the sights’ there were several other objectives to accomplish.

1) We intended to eat two out of three meals a day in our condo, and needed to purchase groceries.

2) Traveler checks must be exchanged for local currency. Good news: One bank, conveniently located along the main plaza, remained open on Sunday. Bad news: It had a plethora of customers awaiting service. Over an hour poor Lynn stood in line.

I, on the other hand, had a nice interlude: Ensconced on a shady park bench, enjoying the surrounding Spanish architecture, a delightful central fountain and a band of musicians with their haunting Mayan music. Women in colorful native outfits would occasionally try to sell me some textiles but were never offended when rebuffed.

Lunch was at the popular Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo where tables were set amidst the hotel’s verdant central courtyard. Guests were permitted to ascend to a roof-top terrace which provided a spectacular overlook with Volcano de Agua looming above the city. Now that we enjoyed!

After visiting the cathedral and doing some window-shopping, we headed to the grocery store. Everything, of course, was labeled in Spanish and it was crowded with shoppers. Locally grown avocados were definitely on our list & they were scrumptious. Other food-stuffs seemed rather limited with the exception of numerous bottles of shoe-polish. I was puzzled until recalling all the shoe-shine boys circulating within the plaza. (Our tennis shoes must have been a source of frustration for these young entrepreneurs).

Monday started out with a bang…literally! We were getting dressed around 9:30 in the morning, when buildings started to shake: Our first earthquake! (A 6.3 on the Richter scale, we later learned). Heavy wrought iron light fixtures overhead began to sway. Instead of fear, my over-riding thought was, “This Guatemala trip is my idea. Lynn will kill me if we get squished”. Fortunately, all movement stopped within 45 seconds and Lynn seemed excited, rather than upset, about the event. While we tourists reacted somewhat anxiously, locals appeared unconcerned. (One exception: a Canadian visitor told us the caged parrot in the resort’s dining room suddenly became quite agitated moments before the quake hit).

After all the excitement, we took the shuttle into town and spent several hours exploring a different section of the city. Lunch was at El Sereno, a former home for the Royal Mercedarian Order and one of Antigua’s best restaurants with its lovely patio, romantic cave and rooftop vistas. (Guatemalan currency, the quetzal, was currently worth only one eighth of a US dollar, allowing us to enjoy great meals for very reasonable sums). The food was absolutely delicious, but sadly, we were their only customers. Tourism in Guatemala has really suffered from poor global economy, rising crime rates in the cities and swine-flu concerns.

Next on the agenda: A visit to the Convento La Merced, ruins of a 16th century convent boasting an enormous central courtyard with a star-shaped pool surrounding a beautiful octagonal fountain. Vivid pink bougainvillea spilled over ancient walls, and the surrounding brick ramparts provided exceptional vistas of the city. In the distance, puffs of smoke rose from Volcano Fuego. We had the whole place to ourselves and loved it!

Very early Tuesday morning (at 4:00 a.m.!)the shuttle arrived to take us to Guatemala City’s domestic airport. Our destination: the Mayan ruins of Tikal. (Getting there involved either a 45 minute flight or a nine-hour bus trip… No contest)! TAGA airline reminded us how air travel used to be: no security lines, a solicitous stewardess and lots of food!

Upon landing in the town of Flores, we were hustled into a minibus for the hour drive to Tikal. Our English-speaking guide was very informative and added immensely to the experience. Tikal, is one of the largest Mayan ruins ever uncovered… and a primary reason for our trip to Guatemala. (The Mexican Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum which entranced us years ago had merely ‘whetted our appetite” for more). Civilization at Tikal reached its zenith around 250 A.D and ended abruptly approximately 600 years later. Situated within 222 square miles of jungles in the province of Peten, only six square miles of Tikal have been mapped and excavated, revealing over 3000 constructions.

The place was amazing and, suffice it to say, my first glimpse of the main plaza literally took my breath away! Built of limestone, there are six main temples (or pyramids) with the tallest (Temple IV) reaching 231 ft. in height. Some we could climb while others utilized wooden steps constructed alongside the temples for summit access. From the upper ledge of Temple IV, all the major pyramids were visible, rising above a vast canopy of trees. Excavated attractions included ball courts, altars, stelae with hieroglyphics, and numerous other ancient edifices.

Expecting throngs of tourists, I was stunned to see how few visitors roamed the grounds. Spider monkeys peered down from trees while several kaotymundis (strange-looking critters related to the raccoon family) hopefully looked for hand-outs. There was even some time to explore on our own. Still, with so much to see, the 4 1/2 hours in Tikal (including lunch onsite) passed too quickly. Eventually our group was transferred back to Flores in time to catch the 5:00 flight for Guatemala City.

Leaving the airport, our shuttle to Antigua ran right into rush hour and with twenty-four percent of the entire country’s population living in Guatemala City it gave new meaning to the word “traffic-jam”. The roads were all one-way, but within that parameter, no traffic lanes existed. Cars edged past with inches to spare. ‘Chicken busses’ (so named as anything can be brought onboard) with riders hanging from the doors, muscled their way into the melee. Such a spectacle precipitated a sort of horrified fascination. Finally, around 8:00 p.m. we arrived at the resort and headed straight for the bar. Dinner could wait!

Wednesday morning’s agenda was a walking tour with Elizabeth Bell, a long-time resident, author and (supposedly) the best tour guide in Antigua. Our 2 1/2 hour stroll included a number of sites we had not yet seen, including a ghostly crypt within old cathedral ruins and several fascinating museums. Ms. Bell, (who we found to be rather arrogant) was never-the-less a fountain of information, and significantly enhanced our knowledge of Guatemala. We learned education is required through the sixth grade, but there is no enforcement of this policy. Worse, all educational expenses (except teacher salaries) are borne by the parents, and in large families, this becomes an insurmountable burden.

The largest percentage of gross national product comes from workers abroad, sending money home. Tourism is the next greatest revenue and both sources have taken a ‘significant hit’ in the last few years. Athough the country is predominantly Catholic, many Mayans (who constitute a majority of the population) continue to practice some form of their ancient religion. The most helpful bit of information? Ms. Bell showed us the one ATM machine in town that was not only tamper-proof but dispensed US dollars.

By the time our tour was completed, it was late in the afternoon. Lunch was at the Restaurant Dona Luisa, which had its own on-site bakery. We were starving and waiting for our food amidst aromas of fresh bread was tortuous. Hunger appeased, we headed for the last attraction on our ‘must-see’ list: The Inglesia de San Francisco, one of the oldest still-standing churches in Antigua. In addition to a small but lovely garden, San Francisco houses the remains of a local saint whose intercession is sought for illness. We noticed several families praying fervently by his tomb. From the back of the church, one moaning penitent approached the altar on his knees. I put my camera away for in the face of such anguish it seemed sacrilegious to be taking photos.

Thursday morning, we had reservations for a tour of a coffee plantation, Finca Colombia and were picked up by the plantation owner herself, a personable woman of Spanish ancestry. Just ten minutes from town, we encountered a whole other world behind the plantation’s gated entrance. Acres of coffee plants grew beneath shade trees and in the distance, Volcano Acatenango. There were only 3 of us on the tour with a two hour immersion in the production of making coffee, from seed to cup. Beans were sun-roasted & shells composted. Absolutely fascinating!

Tour completed, we were taken to her coffee shop in Antigua and offered a complimentary cup. Not far away was the Welten, a renowned restaurant encompassing several rooms of an old mansion. We chose a table in the interior courtyard which overlooked a small pool sprinkled with floating rose petals! Our meal? The best yet: Plums with chicken and fish topped by a local white bean sauce. Once again, nobody else was there except a guitarist who (only briefly, thank goodness) serenaded us.

Before heading back to our resort, there was time to get some souvenir shopping done: Textiles and jade jewelry in this city were fabulous, and high-end examples, although not dirt cheap, were certainly good buys.

Friday would be our last full day at the Soleil and we were ready for some down-time. The big Roche conference group from Colombia, which had been in residence since Monday, had all left that morning. (Really early we knew, thanks to their noisy five busses parked beneath our window). The resort seemed almost deserted: A good time to sit around the pool and read. That evening, with the hotel’s dining room finally emptied, we enjoyed another good meal.

Returning to our room, the noise of fireworks seemed more intense than usual. (Did I mention that firecrackers are very popular in Guatemala)? Out on the balcony, as our condo-neighbors were also admiring the display, we invited them in for a drink. Hailing from Michigan, they were avid time- share swappers, having spent the previous week on Guatemala’s Pacific coast.

Our week at the time-share in Antigua was over and as we sat in the hotel lobby early Saturday morning, my mood swung between anticipation and anxiety. Back in November, based solely on one enthusiastic recommendation in a travel magazine, I had electronically contacted Sergio Garcia to be our guide and driver for the next five days. Over a period of several months (and numerous emails) the two of us had created an itinerary designed to focus on the Mayan culture. Now I was nervous. We would be spending an awfully lot of time together. What if we didn’t like Sergio or he drove like a typical (ie…reckless) Guatemalan?

Sergio arrived fifteen minutes early (a feat nobody in Guatemala had managed to accomplish). Thirty years of age, and of Mayan descent, he spoke fluid English, was conversant in three other languages and trying to learn a fifth: Hebrew. Hailing from a village near Antigua, and currently pursuing a Masters degree at the local university, Sergio described himself as having a ‘thirst for knowledge’. We were to discover he had a wide range of interests and an engaging personality. Plus, Sergio turned out to be a very good driver with an impeccable Hyundai. We couldn’t have picked a better guide!

Today’s destination was the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras and by 9:00 we were off, heading east on the bicoastal National Road. Few highways exist in such mountainous terrain and Sergio informed us this one was built by the British. In exchange they demanded (and received) territory that now comprises the country of Belize, effectively eliminating most of Guatemala’s Caribbean ports.

Eventually we swung south and around 3:00 reached the Honduran border. Long lines of trucks parked on the roadside behind the barrier. Apparently, guards often demand an additional ‘facilitation payment’ and if drivers don’t ante up, they wait…sometimes for hours. Sergio, however, had been doing this for years and personally knew those in authority. Within minutes, we were into Honduras and approaching the nearby town of Copan Ruinas, so named for its proximity to the excavations. Nothing there particularly noteworthy except the small Museo Regional de Arqueologia, the first museum built to house the archeological finds at Copan. Included were some magnificent carvings, statuary and creations in jade. Our favorites? The large incense-lids with their crisp and humorous depictions of scholars and deities.

While Sergio was staying in town, Lynn and I had reservations for the next two nights at the Hacienda San Lucas, our ‘big splurge’ with its boutique accommodations and five-course dinners on site. Located on a promontory overlooking the Copan River and accessed by a long rutted dirt road, this place was certainly ‘off-the-beaten-track’. Flavia, the gracious owner of Hacienda San Lucas prided herself on being very eco-friendly and everything was either solar powered or candlelight. (A very aesthetic experience as long as you weren’t trying to read or find something in the suitcase).

Ensconced on Adirondack chairs with the valley spread below, we sipped wine and enjoyed the sunset until called for dinner. Climbing the hill, our path to the outdoor dining area was lit by candles. The only other guests in residence were a cosmopolitan male couple who, we later learned, shared half of our bungalow. Dinner was absolutely delicious, but no way could I eat all those courses. Even Lynn eventually ran out of steam.

With Sergio picking us up the next morning promptly at eight- thirty, there was barely time to enjoy our breakfast. However, we had an exciting day ahead: The famous Mayan ruins at Copan (which, I hoped, wouldn’t pale in comparison to Tikal). Honduras requires all visitors to utilize the services of local guides while touring the ruins and Sergio had reserved his friend Cesar, an inspired choice! Without Cesar, we would have missed many of the carvings and inscriptions that made Copan so unique. Tikal’s structures had been created from limestone. Copan utilized volcanic rock and this stronger substance preserved the hieroglyphics and stelae to a much greater degree than we had previously seen.

This was truly a magical place. Wild macaws shrieked from the trees and leaves fluttered to the ground in a shower of gold. Some of the highlights: A Hieroglyphic Stairway, the longest known piece of hieroglyphic writing in the Americas with its 63 steps depicting the genealogy of Copan’s rulers and the city’s history from mythical beginnings through the reign of the 15th ruler. The great plaza was filled with stelae (upright stones or slabs with intricate carvings) and ball courts were extremely well preserved. Although it couldn’t match the size of Tikal, Copan was definitely just as awe-inspiring. We loved it!

Tour completed, we stopped for lunch at the complex’s cafeteria. Armed militias were swarming about: The president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti was onsite! This was an exciting development: Quite infamous, President Micheletti had been installed by the Honduran Congress last summer after a coup, resulting in political turmoil at home and outraging the international community. Apparently, we just missed seeing him.

Disappointed, we headed for the Museum of Maya Sculpture, a large modern building near the entrance. Unlike the original museum in town yesterday, this one housed larger sculptures relocated from the ruins for protection from environmental fluctuations. Cleverly compartmentalized, first floor exhibits featured death and the underworld while a ramp led to stelae and statues of kings and gods on an upper level. The centerpiece of the museum: A full-sized brightly painted replica of Rosalila, the temple discovered (with original colors preserved) buried beneath a later structure. Obviously Copan had been quite flamboyant in its heyday.

Down the road was another site: La Sepulcros, dwellings and tombs of the Mayan elite. Interesting structures, but certainly less impressive than those seen earlier today. However, nobody else was there…these were our own private ruins! Sergio, an avid birder, pointed out several unusual species in the surrounding jungle, including a Mot- Mot. This bright turquoise bird, with its unique tail, is indigenous to the area.

One last stop: The town hall, which just acquired from Harvard’s Peabody Museum an exhibit featuring photos of the early excavations. The room was locked but, thanks to Sergio’s persuasive powers, we gained admittance. Fascinating! Exhausted, we finally returned to Hacienda San Lucas. But wait! Why were all these guards with assault rifles milling about, glaring with suspicion as we pulled into the parking lot? Nervously, Sergio announced, “I think the president is here”. Unbelievably, he and his entourage (including a young grandson sporting a holstered Colt 45) were finishing a late lunch at the outdoor dining area. While we hesitated, gawking, Flavia detached herself from the group and rushed to our side. Of course, we needn’t leave, we were her guests. “Stay, have a beer. Later, I know the president will want to personally thank you for visiting Honduras”.

Although Sergio beat a quick retreat, Lynn and I settled in at a nearby table. With tourism at an all-time low, maybe the president really would stop by. (Just in case, we had one of the staff teach us the phrase, “This is such an honor” in Spanish). Sure enough, eventually President Micheletti approached our table. After I stammered out my greeting, he switched to English, welcoming us to Honduras. I blurted, “We have never met a president before!” His response… “Then how would you like your picture taken with one”? Of course! (Note: Three days later, President Micheletti proved to be an honorable man, stepping down as promised when the new democratically elected president, Porfino Lobo took office).

Checking out Monday morning, it was time to return to Guatemala and again, no problem with the border crossing. After grabbing lunch we stopped to see a cathedral in the village of San Cristobal Acasaguastlan. This beautifully renovated Spanish-style cathedral boasted a large carving of the sun-god, imprinted above the church entrance by Mayan builders in 1654. Such a fusion of Mayan and Catholic religions was something we had not seen before.

I wanted Sergio to show us some of the attractions of Guatemala City, since my primary impression of it so far was smog and traffic. For over an hour we drove past various points of interest, culminating at the Plaza Mayor. Designed in 1778 (after Antigua’s destruction by earthquake) the plaza had a central fountain and was surrounded by impressive edifices including a huge cathedral, an immense palace, and the massive National Library. However, this was Zone 1, epicenter of the city’s crime gangs and Sergio & Lynn became uneasy when I wandered too far from the car. Maybe it was time to move on.

Overnight accommodations are limited outside of the main cities or tourist attractions, but at least in Antigua, we had options. Based on guidebook and internet recommendations, I had selected Casa Madeleine, a bed and breakfast/spa only several blocks from our timeshare at the Soleil. After a quick stop in town to cash traveler-checks and pick up some take-out chicken for dinner, Sergio dropped us off at the B&B. Nice, but compared to Hacienda San Lucas, anticlimactic. Of more concern were all the aromatic candles in our room, plus a scented air-freshener. Gasp! Instant headache! Flinging open both doors, we got rid of the air-freshener and banished all candles to our outdoor balcony. Finally the scents dissipated enough to get to sleep.

Tuesday, after a delicious breakfast, Sergio picked us up. Today we would be concentrating on the Mayan villages of the Western Highlands. Thanks to fertile volcanic soil, agriculture plays an important role in this part of the country. I couldn’t believe these vegetables! Beets were the size of baseballs, carrots looked liked giant orange zucchini and the squash I mistook for watermelons. As all the women in Sergio’s family are weavers, he appreciated Mayan textiles and could enlighten us about the distinctive garments of the villages we visited. While most men and boys favored blue jeans and T-shirts, there were some exceptions, particularly amongst older males. In Solola, men wore colorful tops and a type of skirt over their trousers, while in Nahuala, only the skirts…no pants. Meanwhile, women’s apparel remained traditional: The huipil (a short-sleeved, over-head blouse embroidered about the neck) that is worn over a skirt and tied with a cloth sash.

Sergio pointed out distinguishing characteristics in the villages we visited: Horizontal and/or vertical stripes, addition of an apron, certain colors or designs, etc. One of the most interesting places was Nuhuala where, in contrast to the typical colorful Mayan outfits, women here favored black or purple. Sergio informed us Nuhuala is known as the ‘witch village.’ I thought he was joking and teasingly asked, “Good or bad witches?” But in a dead serious tone, Sergio replied, “Bad witches” and didn’t elaborate. (Hmm… on the off-chance he was right, I didn’t even try to bargain when purchasing a purse in their tiny local market).

Zunil may have been our favorite and it was here we saw our first Mayan cemetery, perched atop a hill overlooking the village. Although ‘persons of importance’ were interred in mausoleums, the majority of graves were demarcated by individualized creations of tile or cement, some very colorful. Sadly, many of the gravesites were those of children or infants, an indication of Guatemala’s high infant mortality rate. (Forty-five of every thousand children do not live until their fifth birthday).

In the town below lots of activity was going on. “Today is market day for the local farmers” exclaimed Sergio, “Want to go?” Down we went and dove into the melee. Professional buyers roamed the open marketplace where sellers (mostly women, often accompanied by small children) displayed their produce, cleaned and artistically arranged for maximum impact. After careful inspection, money was exchanged and “runners” summoned to carry the food to waiting trucks. Vendors were cooking tortillas and beans for hungry customers. Women with huge baskets of leafy greens on their heads passed by and everyone sported their colorful native garb. What a vibrant spectacle!

Moving on, we had a quick tour of the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango (Xela), including a lunch-stop downtown. From there it was a short drive to San Andres in Xecul. The exterior of this bright-yellow ornate church is adorned with twisted columns and colorful folk-art carvings ranging from sacred jaguars to a pregnant Mary accompanied by numerous angels. The church, dedicated to St. Andrew the fisherman, contained an altar rimmed in neon lights! As in the other villages, Lynn and I were the only ‘gringos’ in sight.

It had been a fascinating day, but we needed to get to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan before the bank closed at 5:00. (To our dismay, we had discovered banks refused to cash more than $200.00 of traveler checks within any 24-hour period, which significantly complicated our efforts to pay Sergio). After a forty-five minute wait, Lynn emerged, money in hand.

Our dinner and overnight reservations were at Casa del Mundo, located on Lake Atitlan in the tiny village of Jaibalito, and accessible only by water. Sergio had hired a power-boat that whisked us off to the hotel which perched on a rocky outcropping jutting into the lake. Hotel staff at the dock led us up a long flight of steps to the reception area. There we learned our cabana was located at the very top of the complex involving another arduous climb…but well worth the effort: Our beautifully appointed room had a tiny balcony and the most fabulous view!! Lake Atitlan has been described as one of the world’s most beautiful and it spread out below us in full glory. More than ten miles across at its widest point, the entire body of water is rimmed by dormant volcanoes while villages perch on its steep hillsides. We loved it!

Dinner was back down the hill near the reception area and our meal, served at a communal table for twelve, was enhanced by lively conversations with the other guests. Unfortunately, around one o’clock in the morning, I became violently sick. Since Lynn ate the same dinner and was fine, the culprit had to be that lunch in Xela. Fortunately, I had some Cipro with me and first thing in the morning, phoned Sergio to bring over more immodium. Not until almost noon did I feel confident leaving the bathroom. We would definitely have to cancel plans to hike between the villages of Lake Atitlan today.

Still a little shaky, with Lynn’s help I slowly descended to the waiting boat. If we couldn’t hike, I wanted to at least check-out the coastline from the water. No problem. Our skilled captain kept the vessel on a steady course (in deference to my residual queasiness) allowing ample time to view and photograph attractions along the shore. Perhaps it was the fresh breezes or the gorgeous scenery, but I began to feel better.

Tourism at Lake Atitlan has suffered recently from reports of toxic algae in the water, but there no sign of it until we docked at Panajachel. Just down the beach, a number of people congregated. According to Sergio, this was a Mayan religious ceremony. Their faith is a polytheistic one, focusing on the gods of nature. Leaders are recognized at an early age to have special gifts, and these children are then tutored by the Mayan priests for future succession. I was surprised to learn that sometimes these ‘chosen’ children are girls.

With flights back to Miami the next day, we needed to return to Guatemala City. En route was a village that seemed to be almost entirely composed of shops for auto-repair/parts. Apparently, Guatemala is the ‘last stop’ for seriously damaged vehicles from the United States. The talented mechanics here can repair anything and their cheap labor breathes new life into these wrecks…many of them re-emerging as local transportation. I was struck once again by the industrious nature of the local population. In fact, this whole trip had been a revelation. Before coming to Guatemala, we heard our share of scary stories about its criminal activities. Although a little uneasy in parts of Guatemala City, nowhere else did we feel unsafe. This country is gorgeous and filled with history. The Mayan people display a quiet dignity that contrasted with some other third-world countries we’ve visited. Nobody was begging or aggressive in their sales attempts. The children (and there are many of them) are adorable with a stoic nature. In two weeks I had not heard a Mayan child cry or display a temper tantrum.

Sergio dropped us off by evening at the Best Western in Zone 9, located in a nice area of the city, and close to the International Airport. This extraordinary man had not only introduced us to his culture but gave us an unforgettable five days. When we hugged goodbye, I felt as if we were leaving a friend.

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