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Dave and Jan's travels, day 231:
Quiriguá and Rio Dulce

5th January
On new years' day, we eventually got out of bed for the short journey back to our old haunt, Antigua Guatemala. One day there, in which we took in a couple of ruins we'd missed the first time, visited the family that we'd stayed with, and failed to get any cash from any banks.Apparently both our bank, and Pete and Clares' (in New Zealand) were 'temporarily off-line'. Eventually we changed a few cash dollars at a ruinous rate in a local hotel. We did have a fine meal at the Gaia Restaurant, run by some very friendly Cubans. Provided that you don't mind the "who needs it?" attitude to all forms of organisation, I highly recommend this place.

From Antigua, we headed east through the country. A brief stop in Guatemala City to pick up mail (thanks for the Christmas cards!) and on to the ruins of Quiriguá. These were constructed between about 720 and 800, by one Cauac Sky and his successors. This king rose from nowhere to rule a sizeable empire by being very good at fighting. We know this because he subsequently paid an army of stonemasons to record this, in painstaking detail, for the benefit of posterity. The unique feature of the site is several stelae, or standing stones, that are usually carved with the image of Cauac Sky on one side, and lots of pictograms to tell the story on others. The stelae rise as high as 8 metres and are very impressive.

That impression is in no small part due to the lovely park-like setting amid the jungle, which provides both a lovel atmosphere and a host of creepy crawlies that like the taste of David.

We then continued on to Rio Dulce, a small town just at the point where the selfsame "Sweet River" leaves Guatemala's largest lake and wends its gentle and bloated way down to the Carribean coast. We checked into Tijax Jungle Lodge, a nice hotel with the unusual feature of being built on top of a swamp. Most visitors arrive by yacht. This is because those that come by car find themselves faced with ordeal by a long and wobbly set of pedestrian suspension bridges, particularly treacherous if you happen to have chosen to wear a large backpack.

The next day we river boated down to the coast and the town of Livingston. This sleepy town on the Carribean coast sports a large black population, and the townsfolk speak equal mixtures of the native Garifuná language, the English creole popular a little north in Belize, and Spanish spoken with a distinctive lilt. It's hot enough that large parts of the day can only be spent lazing around doing as little as possible, and this is something that the locals seem to have brought to a fine art.

The trip to and from Livigston featured beautiful jungly green scenery, lots of birdlife, the now obligatory hot spring and some elegant fishermen. The fishermen are of the variety that fold their nets up in some cunning fashion, then throw them into space and watch them descend glinting and wide onto the water. Not that they ever seem to catch much.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Quiriguá stela