I love Guatemala it’s so dam crazy it’s hypnotic. Pagans in the villages mixed with the High Priests and the most colorful handicrafts in the World. I entered Guatemala by mistake. I was stranded in Belize during a tropical hurricane. There were no buses running in either direction, no flights in or out and all the water taxis were broken down. It was a freaking mess with trees down and the electricity out– I was concerned we would run out of food.
Drowning in rain and maybe my beers a young military man and his girlfriend invited me to go by Naval launch to Livingston, Guatemala. En route we went up one one of the tributaries appropriately named The Monkey River where we witnessed many huge Iguanas leaning over the water stretched out from the trees. They were bright red and orange and some over six foot long. I have often thought this might be the place I eventually hang my hat. Can you imagine my address Zentraveler Monkey River somewhere in the Americas.
Leaving Livingston we headed up the Rio Dulce (sweet river) in a tuc-tuc- native mahaghony barca. The riverboat operator told me this was the original site for the first Tarzan movies. Miles and miles of jungle cascading down to the rivers edge with monkey families hopping through the trees foraging for fruits and berries. All we needed was some grapevines and the lines “me Tarzan her Jane” to finish the jungle movie set as we cruised up river taking in the sights and smells. Talk about a jungle cruise it’s sweet, sweet, sweet.
After spending time in one of the river hot springs and going through a natural preserve we arrived at the yacht basin for xpats and anyone who wants to keep a low profile from the hustle and bustle of city life. I left my barca wood transport, climbed up to the bridge, and hopped a bus to Guatemala City. If you were missing the hustle and bustle you can definitely get your belly full in a hurry as you arrive downtown Guatemala City. Horns blowing, people carrying things and moving in every direction. The entire street is moving— it reminds you of an ant factory. You can’t help but wonder where everyone is going and what they are doing. Keep moving or you will get swept off your feet or at least asphyxiated by the bus fumes as they roar through town with people on top and hanging all over the buses and out the side doors. Talk about being centered this is a good place to keep your wits about you. Keep moving is the best advice anyone ever gave me when entering a strange city for the first time. You can always head for a first class hotel to get directions and get your bearings plus Central American coffee is to die for.
I checked into our American Embassy and gave them an itinerary just in case some monsters and such carried my carcass away without telling anyone. From there I met with the Guatemalan Tourism Department and submitted a book outline on the fishes and ecotourism guide to Guatemala. I love this crazy Country so much I was trying to extend my stay for a few years. While in the Guatemalan Tourist Office the telephone rang about every 30 seconds. The tourism director would limp up to the big desk and talk rapid espanol. He was very animated and seemed disturbed. He would come back down as I was trying to pitch my book outline. I finally said is this a bad time?
Moments later he told me to grab my passport, book outline, and move toward the third floor elevator. He grabbed me by the arm and rushed me into the elevator. On the way down he explained we would be getting into his bulletproof BMW and exit most rapido.
With machine guns lined up in the ready position we screeched and sped onto the main avenue. As he proceeded toward the outskirts of Guatemala he informed me he used to be in charge of Transportation and Finances and froze all of the government employees salary for three months. With a sly snickered black mustache he indicated he was glad they didn’t capture us because the last time he went for a month with just a little ground flour and water and was holed up at gunpoint in the basement of the Federal Building. I always wandered why I was a hostage or did he just want my good company. Dios Mio who knows!
After dropping me off at the outskirts of Guatemala he handed me a card of an x-american who worked with the Guatemalan Tourist Department in the past. I took a taxi and arrived at one of the small mountain villages unannounced. Dressed in a dapper kaki outfit with a pith helmet he invited me into his study where he had his maid servant bring us each a glass of brandy. I proceeded to show him the book outline and he swore a blue streak. “Are you telling me they won’t provide a vehicle for your photographs or at least give you travel vouchers between here and the states. You have put a tremendous amount of work into this and you don’t even want paid. Hell they gave someone $300,000 last year for a feasibility study on walnut trees. I wish I was well— we would both tackle this project it’s so important for the tourism of Guatemala. I wasted my life writing books you know there’s no damn money in it. At least I get to spend my golden years in the tropics and that’s something some of them fat cats will never be able to do. I got my reward after-all I love Guatemala it grows on you. Viva la buena vida mi amigo!”
As the sun set in the west he started showing me his fossil collection and told about a Natural Sciences Museum that he and his friend were outfitting in Honduras. When the sun ducked behind the trees he looked at me and asked me If I was interested in dinosaurs.
“If you really want a story I can tell you of a place that still has living dinosaurs in the lost mountain range of the Rip Valley. If you are up for it we will leave bright and early in the morning. I see you have a camera what kind is that?” It’s a Nikon 35 mm black cased professional model with a wide-angle and telephoto lens and plenty of film. He laughed like a little kid. ” I can’t wait until we break this story this will give those pseudo-scientists something to chew about.”
Winding through the mountains in a black 1949 Studebaker I wandered If he was just plain crazy or just a little eccentric. He broke into a loud Italian opera voice as we rolled upward through yet another switchback. He pulled directly into the Jungle along a river tributary. We traveled another three hours along a washed out mud road until we arrived at a stone chapel with a connecting guest house set in the middle of nowhere. Just then a High Priest came out and warmly greeted us both. Just in time for “Monk’s Stew” even though I am not a monk I make everything myself. I am totally self-sufficient. I mostly rely on the coconut, some planted yams and wild berries. I also catch my fair share of wild game and fish. I wouldn’t trade this life for all of the money on Wallstreet.”
“Shall we give our guest our special rocking chair while we chat?” Walking out the door to the outside patio there it was the largest rocking chair I had ever seen. I believe it would have held two tandem giants with room for a few grand-babies. The arms were over nine feet long and the rockers at least 15 feet. “Do you know what the rocking chair is made of the High Priest enquired?” I answered Petrified Wood. “Not a bad answer. The answer my amigo is this is the only dinosaur rocking chair in the World. One of my parishioners told me about it and sure enough one day it just arrived. There is a lot of mystery in these mountains. You know we are just outside the Dinosaur extinction belt which wiped most of the dinosaurs out in Central America. Here in the Rip Valley I have seen many dinosaurs over the years and so has my friend Levy. Levy tells me you bought your camera equipment. I hope you are shooting some ultra fast speed film because these dinosaurs almost fly. You have to be crazy fast or extremely lucky to even see one yet alone capture one on film. If you are ready we will venture into the valley. Here take that walking stick you will need it.”
Holy batman look at these animal trails they are 15 foot wide and looks like a herd of elephants have been rummaging through here for years. Look at the tracks imbedded in the rock formations they must be thousands of years old. Do the dinosaurs make a noise I enquired? “Oh yea you will hear them soon. They start off with a loud growl and make a high pitched shrill sound when alarmed which can be heard from miles away. Going under a limestone cavern we entered a grass plain that looked like it was out of Africa. “There don’t move a muscle I see em feeding at the watering hole through the thick grasses.” Just then they scented us and bleated like a raped donkey. I grabbed my camera and tried to focus as they disappeared into the jungle. They were about three times the size of an elephant, grayish brown with camouflage patches of color, short pointed ears, and about thirty feet in length with a long bushy tail. You could hear the jungle erupt as they stampeded up the far side of the Rip Valley. I shot three quick shots hoping I at least captured their hind-ends if nothing else.
Days later while exploring the town of Antigua Guatemala I picked up my roll of photos only to see a grey blur superimposed on the sun. I might as well have tried to photograph a ghost as trying to capture these creatures. Maybe they know something we don’t. At least they have longevity on there side. While exploring Antigua Guatemala I visited several historic cathedrals, the Ruins of the Convent of Santa Clara and toured the cobblestone streets marveling at the excellent spanish architecture. The food and restaurants are some of the most wonderful restaurants I have experienced anywhere. One restaurant run by a German tour-guide had black rabbits and peacocks waltzing around the courtyard as he served piping hot homemade German black bread with cheese.
Based at the foot of a Volcano the air is pure and the sky is blue. I could definitely see myself hanging here for quite a while. From there I went to the colorful crafts market and took the bus to the third deepest lake in the world Lake Atitlan. I ferried across the water to the San Pedro Volcano where I met several different tribes with multi-striped pants and small black felt hats. Each tribe has it’s own language and cannot communicate with the other tribes. I had my Fenwick pack-rod and caught quite a few large bass on a fly-rod fishing out of a rowboat. (maybe a first with the fly-rod. It definitely caught the native fisherman’s attention) Just reflecting in the small town I saw a parade with Jesus on the cross coming right toward me. Was this a sign? Dios Mio I’m out of here!
On the ferry ride back I could only imagine what kind of large creepy, crawly, creatures could be lurking in Lake Atitlan and then I dozed off in the sun as we headed toward the town of Panajachel nicknamed “Gringo Heaven” by some of the locals.
If you like a country full of contrast, characters, colorful scenery, volcanoes, Mayan ruins and the unknown—- Guatemala might be just the place for you!
QUOTE: EXTINCTION IS FOREVER!
THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW:
” After exploring and studying Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Auburn University geologist says he’s convinced that dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago by a giant meteorite that struck earth.
David King Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Geology, is among those scientists who believe the collision in Mexico –which spewed gases and debris throughout the atmosphere, causing wildfires and choking off the sunlight — directly lead to the dinosaurs’ demise.
“There were a lot of changes happening on the earth 65 million years ago,” King said. “Different animals were under a great deal of stress from these changes. One of the changes was that this meteorite struck the earth, threw a lot of debris into the atmosphere, made it much colder for a long period of time . . . caused acid rain, wildfires. It was the most catastrophic event that the earth has experienced at least within the last 65 million years.”
The collision also caused an earthquake that would today register about 13 on the Richter scale, King added.
“That’s something we (humans) have never experienced,” he said. “The energy released at impact is estimated to equal 114 million megatons of TNT — which accounts for the spread of ejecta for hundreds of miles.”
The debris crater being studied by King and his colleagues through the Planetary Society of Pasadena, Calif., is located in Belize, Central America. The crater is about 200 miles from the actual site of the meteorite’s impact, King said. But it is the largest known crater on Earth — and the largest to have formed in our inner solar system within the past three billion years.
Scientists estimate that the meteorite was about six miles in diameter. At impact, it created a crater some 115 miles in diameter.
“Ejecta deposits once covered much of the Yucatan region of Mexico, northern Guatemala and Belize,” King said.” —— auburn.edu
THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO SAVE: HABITAT LOSS
“Habitat loss is recognized as the greatest threat to most plants and animals on the list of threatened and endangered species. Many people are also aware of other activities that directly harm listed species, such as killing and over-exploitation for trade purposes. Unfortunately, these are not the only dangers. With human assistance, species from one part of the world are invading other regions that have no defense against them. These invaders can be as large as a snake, as small as a bacterium, or as seemingly harmless as a wildflower. Other threats, such as contaminants from industrial and agricultural sources, are often unseen until they cause fish die-offs, malformed frogs, or thin-shelled eggs. This edition of the Bulletin takes a look at these lesser-known threats.”
——ENDANGERED SPECIES BULLETIN U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERIES
Zentraveler says if the travel gets to rough get some travel insurance you might need it!