Friday, January 14, 2005

Guatemala: Country of the Small

On New Year's Day I travelled to Antigua, Guatemala. This is a small and beautiful city. Damn beautiful. Every building in the city are old Spanish colonial-style buildings and it is ringed with extinct, perfectly cone-shaped volcanoes. However after admiring the beauty there wasn't actually much to do there, so I soon continued on to Panajachel.

Panajachel is a small village on a lake in the mountains, again ringed with volcanoes. Like Antigua it is beautiful. Damn beautiful. Like Antigua there wasn't actually much to do except admire the beauty. A large group of aging Americans hippies live here, still with long hair and beards and tie-dyed t-shirts, although the long hair and beards are very grey and the t-shirts cover big paunches.

Both Antigua and Panajachel are populated with midgets. Little people. Adults who are easily mistaken for children. I had to kneel down to talk with the hotel staff. They are Mayans, people who already populated that part of the world long before Christopher Columbus and his colonising cronies came sailing in. I guess they must all start smoking really young and it stunts their growth. The women wear bright, multicoloured, woven clothing, just like you would see in a National Geographic magazine. But they don't wear this for the tourists - it actually is how they dress every day.

Next stop was a town called Flores, which is on a small island in a lake, connected to the land by a causeway. The lake is surrounded by jungle, and there was no need to use an alarm clock in the morning. The combined squawking and chattering of a plethora of jungle birds and animals denied anyone the possibility of sleep. I think it is the first time I have enjoyed having my morning sleep disturbed since Saturday morning cartoons as a kid.

Unlike Antigua and Panajachel there definitely was something to do in Flores. Nearby are the ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal, which consists of a number of temples, pyramids, and other structures in the middle of the rainforest. Monkeys swing between the trees, iguanas scurry across the paths, and toucans sit around with their brightly-coloured beaks, doing toucan things and thinking toucan thoughts. You can climb up the tallest temple, which I did. I sat on the top of the pyramid, which took me above the rainforest canopy. The canopy is punctuated by other temples and is a serene view.

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