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A view from Cerro de la Cruz over the small town of Antigua. Volcano Agua imposes in the background.


From the Parque Central in Antigua. That's Volcano Agua in the distance and to the left is the Palacio de Gobierno.


The sellers decided to settle down with their wares in front of this ruined buildings. Striking designs on some of the clothing.


La Merced Church. The church was first built in the 16th century but the baroque exterior dates from the 1850's. Inside is a huge fountain and from the roof you have good views of the other 2 volcanoes surrounding Antigua, Fuego and Acatenango.





The return of the autorikshaws! Flores is a hub for many people to visit Tikal after crossing the border from Belize. A serene lake appears at the edge of town.



Tikal, Guatemala. Impressive and vast, you can spend a day exploring just one corner of the excavations.------------Scroll Right -->


I stayed in Flores for a night and booked the 5 AM bus to Tikal for the next day. Morning in Tikal is the best times to see much of the wildlife such as the Howler Monkeys and Toucans. For several hours I felt I had the entire area to myself. Tikal is more spread out than any of the other ruins I had visited, and I wasn’t expecting the lengthy walks to each excavation. However, with a map in hand, the paths become easier to navigate. Walking through the jungle with the sounds of animals, birds and insects everywhere becomes enchanting. Perhaps this is why Tikal means "place of voices."

I first visited the Gran Plaza, then toured the Temples, climbing each one and savoring the views. Although I am not normally afraid of heights, the stairs leading up the some of the temples are steep and the views so expansive that I felt dizzy at times. You can see all the way out to the horizon and the other buildings clearing the jungle canopy.

I spent quite a bit of time in El Mundo Perdido with its different architectural styles and imposing pyramid. Both the central and southern acropolises are huge areas to explore, and I walked through various “groupings,” structures that may have been used to house Mayan nobility. Tikal feels like a place of Kings, best represented in the Temple of the Grand Jaguar built for King Moon Double Comb.

Although I did not hire a guide, I had many questions. Fortunately towards the end, when I climbed Temple IV, I had an opportunity to chat with one of the guides from another group. He explained to me that tourists had fallen to their deaths from Temple I, hence the stairs had been closed there. He also said that the offering stones were still used by the Mayas today for their rituals and ceremonies. “First settled by the Mayas in 700BC, Tikal reached its peak around 700 to 900 AD. Tikal was mostly abandoned after these years.”

Space age temple IV is the highest structure at 64 meters. You can have excellent views of the sunset from here, but I had to catch my bus back to Flores. I probably would have liked to spend another day in Tikal with a guide if I had more time.

Two museums at the site display many of the original carvings and stone inscriptions from Tikal (the actual excavations sometimes only have copies) and you can look closely at the exquisite designs in proper lighting.

Why this rush through Tikal? Because I had one more place to visit, Antigua. The same night I returned to Flores, I took a second class bus to Guatemala City. The drive was about ten hours long and the bus was mostly empty. I met a friend from Mexico, Lautaro and another girl from Australia. It was the former who convinced me that I must visit Lake Atitlan before I left. So now there were two places I needed to visit, and I had hardly five days left before I had to race back to Mexico City.

The bus ride was another surreal experience, enhanced by being in a foreign country where I was unfamiliar with the language or customs. Our monster bus roared through pitch dark roads, with trees and jungle on the side and the odd lighted village. Ragged seats, dirty curtains and a threadbare suspension provided a stuffy and sometimes bumpy ride. I was missing the excellent Mexican bus system.

At some point a woman climbed into the bus shouting at the bus conductor that she didn’t have any money. They let her on anyway, and I heard her weeping for a half hour while I tried to sleep. 

After a while, I heard her screaming and I didn’t know what she was saying. Then all of sudden I heard someone beating her and she was crying for help. I got up and went to the back of the bus where Lautaro was sitting and asked him what was going on. He explained that the woman was drunk and that she was the bus driver’s wife. They were having a domestic dispute.

I didn’t know quite how to respond so I sat back down. The beating stopped but the woman paced up and down the bus harassing the passengers and the driver. The driver and the conductor took turns pacifying her and making her sit down. This was a little nerve wracking because the driver’s attention was divided between the road and the woman.

They tried to make her descend from the bus at various stops but she would not comply. Finally after a couple of hours she got off. Across from me were two Guatemalan women in traditional garb, who slept through the whole thing.

Lautaro and the Australian girl were headed towards Lake Atitlan, so we parted ways, and I found a taxi to take me to Zone 1 where busses departed for Antigua frequently. The journey was only a little over an hour from “Guate” to Antigua, so I had arrived at my destination before I expected.

Trendy and touristy, Antigua contains the charm of a small town with all the perks of a big one. You have great restaurants and hotels, travel agencies at every turn and enough shopping, handicrafts and cultural excursions to satisfy most appetites; all in small grid of streets that are easily walked in couple of hours.

Many travelers complain that Antigua is a little too popular, and doesn’t represent the real Guatemala at all, but I found it just fine. Indeed, you will find people from all parts of the world studying Spanish, working in schools, traveling, or just hanging out. I stayed in Hotel Estella, mostly because I was too tired to find a better place. The room was about $9 a night.

Hotel Estella, like many guest houses here, offers private Spanish instruction, along with the opportunity to live and eat with a local family. However, if you can get a room at the Yellow House just across the street, you would probably be well satisfied by the inclusion of breakfast, internet, travel agency and modern furnishings all rolled into one.

On my first day, I met Alan from Canada and we decided to travel with a group up to Volcano Pacaya the next morning. Pacaya is popular because it is an active volcano and we drove for about an hour and a half to get there, and the hike up to the top was another 2 or 3 hours. The hike was moderately difficult because of the ash and volcanic rock that crumbled under your feet while you tried to climb up. Leading us up the mountain for most of the way was a lady from Tennessee who was 72. I complimented her on her fitness and she explained that she ran 5 miles everyday.

When we reached the top, we could peer into 2 large craters where sulphurous fumes rose up and scorched our breaths. The views were staggering, and we could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean, while the town below was nothing more than a postage stamp.  Descending the mountain, the ash and volcanic rocks served as a cushion so we could literally run down the slope.

The next day I spent some time visiting the churches such as San Francisco and La Merced, and in the afternoon climbed up to Cerro de La Cruz. Tourists had been robbed or assaulted from Cerro de La Cruz, so the tourist police has implemented an escort service which takes groups of people up to this fantastic viewpoint. From here you can get a bird’s eye view of Antigua, the small streets and alleys dwarfed by Volcano Agua in the background. 

If you like old towns with lots of history and traditional architecture then you will like Antigua. The town is full of old colonial churches and buildings, lots of them ruined, and the streets are all cobblestone making it a pain to drive through but a pleasure to walk.

The market near the bus stand is a bustling place with all sorts of produce and ready made foods out for sale. Nearby is a huge handicraft market. If I had more space in my backpack I would probably have succumbed to buying a few huipils, which look like ponchos with bright colors and designs embroidered into the fabric. 

I haggled with various travel agents about the best way to visit Lake Atitlan and then take a bus to Mexico City, but received contradictory information. A flight would have been $400 and too costly for me. So I just decided to leave and work it out later. After a 2 and half hour bus ride, I found myself in Panajachel, the most popular town on Lake Atitlan. 

Many people including the author Aldous Huxley have said that Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful lake in the world. Green covered volcanoes rise up in the middle of the lake and the waters are emerald hued. Sunlight creeps over the hills and casts a dazzling light over the waters, volcanoes and nature reserves. There is not enough infrastructure yet to spoil the incredibly clear night sky, and each of the towns around the lake seem to serve up a unique experience along with a perfectly temperate climate.

I really just wanted to rest and enjoy the lake at my own pace. I wanted to see how yoga was practiced in Guatemala, so I visited Las Piramides Meditation Center in San Marcos. All the buildings in the meditation center are shaped like pyramids and the center gives month long courses on health, yoga and spiritual matters.

I was pleased by the relaxed vibe. The night I arrived, I walked all the way up the hill saying “buenas noches” to all the villagers and trying to find the source of loud music that was playing from above the hills.

I spent only a day in San Marcos and attended the lecture course in the morning, where we discussed dimensions of existence, astral travel and reincarnation. Then in the evening we had a meditation session and practiced various techniques to observe people’s auras. One of the techniques was simply to gaze into someone’s eyes without blinking against a white or uniform background.

I was feeling depressed that I had to leave the next day. I had met a number of good people at the meditation center and would have liked to stay and attend the month long course. However, I realized I needed to return home to complete the Peace Corps paperwork. Also, I had already extended my travel by ten days.

That night I had an odd dinner at a little Italian restaurant run by an Archie Bunker crowd. These were Americans running a school or working on building projects in San Marcos. The energy drain of traveling one month nonstop was starting to show, and I could hardly finish my dinner before I had to bid adieu to my company and head back to my room.

So the next day, I pulled myself away from the Las Piramides meditation center on the paradisiacal Lake Atitlan, and started the 24 hour journey back to Mexico City. The boat arrived at 5 AM to take me back to Panajachel from San Marcos, and from there it was the bus all the way.

Something to note is that if you stay in Mexico for less than five days you don’t need to pay the departure tax. When returning to Mexico for my flight, I obtained the coveted immigration stamp in Chiapas. The bus to San Cristobal was about eight hours. At the border crossing from Guatemala to Mexico City we changed taxis.

In San Cristobal I dined for the second time at Mayambe with Jesper, from Copenhagen, whom I had met on the taxi. I finally met Prem, the owner of the restaurant, who told me that he was a Sikh from Mexico. Jesper and I walked the streets for a couple of hours before my next bus. He explained to me that Denmark was the most pro United States country in Europe.

It was fourteen hours on the bus to Mexico City, and I did not get much sleep, but the time passed quickly. The next morning, I saved a lot of money by taking the metro to the Centro Historico and visited some of my old haunts such as the Zocalo, Ave. Madero, Vegetariano Madero, Hotel Isabel, etc. The metro once again surprised me for its cheapness and efficiency and quickly dropped me at the Zocalo for just 20 cents.

Some people had warned me about the taxis in Mexico City, but I had nothing but chatty if not friendly drivers. So to save time, I decided to take a taxi to visit Anahuacalli, the Diego Rivera museum housing his Prehispanic art. 

The building is made from volcanic rock and constructed in a catacomb like style. Lining the walls are archeological objects and statues from the Aztec period as well as other indigenous groups. I also saw a fair bit of excavations from the indigenous people of Northern Mexico, who according to my guide, were more nomadic and did not build great cities and monuments like the Mayans and Aztecs.

I ran into about half a dozen young caretakers of the museum who professed their love for history and archeology. One of these workers guided me through the museum, and explained in decent English the various gods and symbols associated with Tenochtitlan and Teotihuacan.

On the second floor is a working studio where Rivera, who never saw the completion of the museum, intended to work. Large sketches and drawings from Rivera cover the walls. From the top of the museum you can get a decent view of Mexico City, albeit foggy and smog obscured.

I was already late for my flight. But another worker in the museum invited me to have lunch with her friends and I could not refuse. “Dos minutos,” I explained but she brought out mandarins, rice and boiled squash. We held a stumbling conversation in Spanish. She seemed impressed by my Indian ancestry and one of the first questions she asked was how many wives I had. I quickly explained that most husbands in India do not have multiple wives.

I was regretting the fact that I had a flight to catch, as this conversation with Laura and her friends could have been educational and she would have been a good guide to the city. But I hailed a taxi and paid him 100 pesos to race me to the airport. The driver kept insisting on “muchachas (girls)” and that I should be traveling with a girlfriend. He also said that President Fox was like a woman and had no “cojones.”  So finally on my last day in Mexico I got a taste of Mexican “machismo.” 

But true to his word he dropped me in the airport about one and half hours before my departure. Since I had no check in luggage this turned out to be plenty of time.

On the flight home I borrowed a New Yorker from my neighbor. Later we started a conversation about the Peace Corps and books in general. She lived in San Francisco and took down my email, so I hope she writes. I also received an email from Nacho a few days later that said we could meet in Tijuana at the end of February.


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Volcano Pacaya is an active volcano about 2 hours away from Antigua, Guatemala


Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Speed boats take you across the lake to each village.




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