Guatemala & Belize December 2010

December 8, 2010 - December 26, 2010
Wednesday, December 8 - Madrid - San Jose, Costa Rica - Guatemala City, Guatemala - Antigua, Guatemala
Thursday, December 9 - Antigua - Panajachel - Santa Cruz La Laguna
Friday, December 10 - Scuba diving Lago de Atitlán
Saturday, December 11 - Lago de Atitlán
Sunday, December 12 - Lago de Atitlán - Chichicastenango - Antigua
Monday, December 13 - Pacaya Volcano - Antigua - Cobán
Tuesday, December 14 - Semuc Champey - Grutas de Lanquín
Wednesday, December 15 - Cobán - Sayaxché
Thursday, December 16 - Aguateca - Sayaxché - Santa Elena - Flores
Friday, December 17 - Tikal
Saturday, December 18 - Ixpanpajul Park
Sunday, December 19 - Flores - Santa Elena - Rio Dulce - Livingston
Monday, December 20 - Livingston
Tuesday, December 21 - Livingston - Punta Gorda, Belize - Independence, Belize - Placencia, Belize
Wednesday, December 22 - Placencia
Thursday, December 23 - Placencia
Friday, December 24 - Placencia - Independence - Punta Gorda - Puerto Barrios, Guatemala - Guatemala City, Guatemala
Saturday, December 25 - Guatemala City, Guatemala - San Salvador, El Salvador - Madrid, Spain
Sunday, December 26 - Madrid - Bilbao

The adventure begins!!! Who knew that a vacation could start so horribly and end so wonderfully!!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010: I was happily organizing and packing my backpack when the phone rang around 8:30pm. I picked up the phone and it was Ivan, Satcha's brother. He asked me how we were doing and I replied that I was wonderful - Who wouldn't be happy getting ready to go on a trip that had been thought of and planned since January of that same year!!! - I asked him how he was and he said worried. He said that he was worried about Satcha and me. I asked why, very confused. He told me to look at the online newspapers because there were problems at the airports. I opened up the newspaper web page and saw a headline that reported that practically all of Spain's air space was closed due to the air traffic controllers. I quickly gave the phone to Satcha, not fully comprehending what was going on at that moment, and thought it was probably nothing. How could Spain's air space be shut down?!?!? Satcha kept talking to his brother and I went to turn on the TV and see if there was something on the news.

It was all over the news. All of Spain's air traffic controllers had walked out on the job and declared that they were all sick. There was no way for airplanes to fly in, out or through Spain!!! It was chaotic. We didn't know what to do. The government had given the air traffic controllers an ultimatum. They said that they had until 9:00pm to return to their jobs. They didn't, so the government declared a state of alert.

All of Spain's air space was closed and it was being commented that it would open back up at 11:00am, Saturday, December 4, 2010, but that people with flights should confirm them with the airline just in case. We had flights reserved from Bilbao to Madrid at 8:30am and from Madrid to Guatemala City at 11:40am on Saturday, December 4, 2010.

We tried calling the airport and Iberia, but no one answered. So, at 10:00pm we decided to go to Bilbao's airport and see if we could talk to someone. Satcha was able to talk to a worker from Iberia who said that our 8:30am flight would not be taking off and that we should try to get to Madrid however possible because it was probably that the flight to Guatemala would take off - Of course...who would believe that they would allow the air space to be shut down for so long!?!??! We decided to drive to the bus station and try and get tickets for the 1:30am bus to Madrid. We bought the tickets, rushed home, finished packing, closed up the house and took the metro to the bus station.

Saturday, December 4, 2010: We got to the bus station at 1:15am. There were extra buses called in to help with the transportation situation since so many people were trying to get to Madrid with the mess that was going on in the airports.

We finally got to Madrid around 6:30am, it's about a 5 hour bus ride, took the metro to the airport and got there around 7:30am. We were going on no sleep!!! We looked at the flight departure board and every flight's status was "Canceled". There was a woman from Iberia giving information. Iberia had created 3 lines: to get a refund for the flight, to be put on a waiting list for national and within Europe flights and to be put on a waiting list for transatlantic flights. We got in the refund line to try and get a refund for our Bilbao - Madrid flight that morning, since we'd arrived by bus. We got a refund for the flight and asked about the status of the Guatemala flight. Another worker from Iberia informed us that it was still thought that air space would open back up around 11:00am and that the transatlantic flights would be the first to fly out. She said that it might be delayed, but she imagined that it'd fly out. We asked, just in case, about any other flights to Guatemala. She said that there were no flights on Sunday, but there was a flight on Monday. So, all we could do at that moment was wait...

We found 2 seats, sat down and waited, and waited, and waited. All the while people just kept arriving at the airport, but no one was leaving. There were lines of people everywhere. It was very chaotic. While we were sitting and looking like zombies we noticed a cameraman and reporter interviewing people. All of the sudden they were filming us and wanted to interview Satcha!!! Later in the day I got a message from some friends saying that they saw us on the news!!!

At 10:30am the flight status board changed and put that flights to some Latin American countries could check in, Guatemala was one of them!!! I got so excited!!! So, we went to the luggage drop off counter, since we checked in online the night before and already had our boarding passes. We waited, and waited, and waited in the line. It was moving, but the workers at the counter weren't taking any baggage. All of the sudden there was an announcement: those people flying to Barcelona should go to a certain spot. Some people started cheering; you could feel and hear a sort of relief in the airport. Everyone was thinking that if the Madrid - Barcelona flights were starting to go out, the rest would start shortly, too. Then, another announcement: those people who were supposed to fly to Barcelona should go to a certain spot because there's a bus that will take them. A hush and disappointment fell back over everyone.

As we were still standing in the line to check our luggage, at around 12:00pm there was another announcement: Due to the situation caused by the air traffic controllers abandoning their jobs, and that it still hasn't been resolved, Iberia is forced to cancel all of its flights until 6:00am, Sunday, December 5, 2010. Please abandon the airport!!!! People went nuts!!! I went nuts!!! What were we going to do??? Satcha went to ask the Iberia workers at the counter about the next flight out to Guatemala. He was told that the next flights were on Monday, but that it was full and already had a waiting list with 40 people on it - Impossible to get on that flight - and the flight on Tuesday was also full. Because we bought our tickets through a company that wasn't Iberia, we were going to have to talk to that company to have them put us on a different flight or have our money refunded.

There was such chaos at that moment that we went to sit down in a corner and try and think - Remember that we're still going on no sleep!!! - We thought of staying in Madrid, but we weren't sure if we'd get on a flight soon, if the expenses that we would have in Madrid would be compensated. We thought about cancelling all of our vacation and just getting a refund because we didn't know when this situation would be fixed. I felt like we had thought of so many alternatives but none made sense. I didn't know what to do. I just wanted to go on my yearly vacation. I'd been waiting and planning for this moment since January!!! Tears started to flow.

We finally decided to go home, call this company that could change our flight or give us our money back and handle things from there. We took the bus back to Bilbao. We got home around 7:30pm - Still no sleep!!!

While Satcha called about the flight, I started cancelling some reservations that we'd already made and paid for in Guatemala (firsts nights stay at a hotel, a volcano hike, etc.). Satcha finally got through and was told that there was availability on the Wednesday, December 8 flight. We took it! We decided to miss out on 3 days of our vacation in Guatemala, but still go!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010: Tuesday, December 7, 2010: Happy Birthday Satcha!!! There weren't any flights available to arrive in Madrid on Wednesday in time for the Guatemala flight, so we decided to fly to Madrid on Tuesday and spend the night in Madrid (in a hotel, not the airport!!!). It was Satcha's birthday, so not only was it the start of our vacation in Madrid, it was a birthday celebration, too!!!! When we got to the hotel and checked-in, while entering all our data, they noticed that it was Satcha's birthday. The guy at the counter said Happy Birthday and said that he was going to "see what he could do" for the birthday boy!

We walked around Madrid and had dinner. When we got back to our room, there was a complementary bottle of wine and snacks to celebrate Satcha's birthday! It was really nice...We started our vacation by drinking wine, eating snacks and watching a movie!!!! A relaxing way to start after the hectic start!

The adventure gets much better...and then worse...and then better!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010: Things had pretty much settled at the airports by Wednesday. There were still waiting lists full of people trying to get to their destinations, but more or less the flights were flying out on time.

We got to the airport and went to check in. We got to the counter, we showed our boarding cards that we'd gotten the night before online and the Iberia worker said to us that she had to give us new boarding cards - I thought, great, there's some kind of problem and we wouldn't be able to sit together, or even worse, we weren't getting on the flight. She said that because there was overbooking and we had the Iberia Plus cards, which gives us preference, we'd be upgraded to Business class!!!!! WE GOT TO FLY BUSINESS CLASS FOR A 12 HOUR FLIGHT!!!!!

While we waited for the flight we got to wait in the VIP lounge which was so nice and calm with a free food and drink buffet, although I had to have wanted my Starbucks and took that in with me!!! And we flew for 12 hours in luxury, laying down and enjoying the flight!!! That's the way to fly!!!!

We had a layover in San Jose, Costa Rica and since the flight from Madrid took off 2 hours late, we missed our flight from San Jose to Guatemala City. It was around 9:00pm when we arrived to San Jose and there was only one more flight to Guatemala, but it was with a company that Iberia wasn't partners with. It was a huge hassle, running around the airport, talking to different people, not knowing where our luggage was, and trying to get the workers from Iberia to put us on the other flight. I thought, great, we're so close to getting to Guatemala and we're going to have to spend the night in Costa Rica and try and get on a flight the next day, etc. After all the waiting...we were so close!!!! Luckily things worked out and Iberia put us on the last flight out to Guatemala that night!!!! (There were people on our flight from Madrid who were connecting in San Jose to El Salvador. They'd gone though a similar situation as us in Madrid with the air traffic controllers and having their flights cancelled. When we got to San Jose late there were no more flights that night to El Salvador. They had to spend the night in San Jose and be put on a waiting list to get to their destination. They were very, VERY mad, which is understandable).

We arrived in Guatemala City around 11:30pm, Wednesday, December 8, 2010!

WE FINALLY MADE IT!!!! From there we started our true, exiciting adventure!!!

I was nervous for this trip, more nervous than usual. We'd heard and read how Guatemala wasn't a very safe country. We talked to people who'd been there and they mentioned how that it was true that Guatemala was a little bit more dangerous than other destinations, but that if we were a little bit more cautious and didn't do anything stupid that it'd a beautiful and wonderful place to visit!!!

While we travelled through Guatemala, there was something that stood out that made us realize that it was true about the safety in Guatemala. There were armed guards with shotguns standing outside stores, banks, parking lots, etc. Also, we saw people carrying hand guns on the street. We talked to people from Guatemala and they told us that it's legal for people to carry hand guns if they have a license, but that many don't have one. There were a lot of police patrolling the streets, too. They travelled in pickup trucks: two in the cabin and between four and six of them sat in the bed of the pickup all armed with huge, semiautomatic type guns.

Chichicastenango marketDespite my nerves and what we'd heard, we didn't have any problems. It was quite the contrary; I felt a lot safer than I thought I would!! We walked around by ourselves, we ate at restaurants where Guatemalans ate, we talked to them and we travelled with them from city to city using the local buses. Being with the Guatemalan people made me feel better and I felt like I was really travelling, enjoying and understanding the people and the country, not just seeing it as a scared tourist!

Guatemalans are very shy, friendly, beautiful, colorful people. They still maintain the traditions of the Mayan culture and are very proud of it. As we walked down the street or walked through the markets they didn't say anything to us, they barely even looked at us (which is quite a contrast from the African and Arabic cultures where they notice the tourists right away and are always saying hello or trying to sell you something!), but once we said "Buenos días" or "Hola" to them, they'd smile, respond and want to talk and know where we were from. They all wanted to know where we were from, where we'd been in Guatemala and if we liked travelling through their country.

Guatemala is a beautiful country! It's so colorful; there are so many different, beautiful landscapes! There is a large diversity of landscapes: active volcanoes, jungle, lakes, Mayan towns and markets, Tikal - the most important of all Mayan ruins, rivers, mangroves, Caribbean-reggae-feel town and so much more!!!!

Beautiful colors of yarn at Chichicastenango marketThe markets were full of beautiful colors. Between the people's hand woven, colorful clothes, and the fruits and vegetables, everything looked so lively and vibrant!! The fruits and vegetables were delicious!! I ate fresh pineapple, watermelon, apples, mandarins, papaya, bananas, tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, avocado and it all tasted so fresh! The liquados were yummy (fresh fruit blended with ice and a little bit of sugar). Strawberry was the best! And the guacamole...I ate plates and plates and plates of fresh guacamole. I've never tasted better guacamole (sorry Mom!)!

We hiked an active volcano, Pacaya. We walked on the Pacaya Volcanorecent lava rock that covered the area from the last explosion in May 2010. As I walked on the volcano, I could feel the heat on my feet. There was smoke coming from the top and holes in the sides.

Lago de AtitlánWe visited the Lake Atitlán area where there are many small towns that still have a true Mayan influence. The lake was formed by a volcanic eruption which caused a crater to form and has been filled by rain water. It's surrounded by active volcanoes. I went scuba diving in the lake and saw the rock formations caused by the volcano. I felt around the bottom and could feel heat coming out. I touched a rock, underwater, and it burnt my hand!

Tikal Temple IWe visited Tikal, one of the most important Mayan ruins in the jungle of the Peten area, we zip-lined through the treetops of the jungle, we swam in beautiful turquoise-blue freshwater pools and we enjoyed the lively reggae culture of Livingston.

Moray eelAt the end of the trip we took a boat from Livingston to Placencia, Belize. Placencia is a town in the south of Belize that is the typical white sand, palm tree, turquoise water picture perfect town. Belize has the world's second largest barrier reef (the first is Australia). We went scuba diving and saw so much marine life and beautiful colors underwater!!! I'd read that it was very common to see turtles while diving. I'd never see a turtle and made it my goal to see one while we were there! We dove two days in a row, two dives each day. I thought after our last dive that I'd be leaving Belize without seeing my turtle, although I wasn't that disappointed since I'd seen so much on the four dives and was really happy!!!Turtle But, after our last dive, we went snorkeling and saw 2 HUGE turtles!!!! They were beautiful!!! I'd never seen anything so beautiful under the water!!! I ended the trip getting my wish!!! I had four wonderful dives, saw amazing things under the water and saw my turtles!!!

Even though the start to this trip was horrible, it ended up being a fantastic adventure!!!

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Anonymous said...

Menos mal que no anulasteis el viaje!
Great story & pictures!!
I want more!
Tir Benifor