Social Encore: Discovering Guatemala
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
After a relaxing time on the island of Belize, my search for adventure continued. Crossing the border from Belize into Guatemala was an interesting experience. I have visited many places, but for some reason this particular crossing was very informal. There were no real instructions of what you needed to do, and the feeling of obscurity played a big role in the rest of my trip. I was living on the edge.
It felt natural for me to head south. After a 30-minute boat ride and a five-hour van ride, I ended up in Flores, Guatemala. The town is located on a small island connected to the rest of Guatemala by a bridge. The town reminds me of many cultures. For example, the town’s park (what is called “parque central”) acts as the center of town. You’ll often see kids playing or locals sitting around. If you’re hungry, stop by one of the taco stands and get yourself a bite to eat without breaking the piggy bank.
This Central American country has a lot of Mayan history, so I wanted to get up close and personal with its archaeology. One of the largest archeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, called Tikal, is about an hour away from Flores.
The Tikal national park is a site to see. It was used for George Lucas’ “Star Wars” and was also used as a backdrop for “The Amazing Race.” Being on the grounds here, you can feel how glorious it must have been. Seeing the various temples and tombs gave you a sense of how powerful the rulers were and the people that once tended the land. These Mayan people were smart, resourceful and from the stories that the locals have told me, futuristic.
My next stop lead me further into a southwestern part of Guatemala called Lake Atitlan. Considered one of the deepest lakes in Central America, it’s unique since it is surrounded by land and does not flow into the sea. The tightly knitted towns surrounding the lake and moped taxis (what the locals like to call “tok-toks”) reminded me of my mom’s hometown in the Philippines.
Later, I settled into the small town of San Pedro Lake Atitlan. While many people speak English here, you’ll often hear Spanish and Mayan. If you’re looking to learn the Spanish language and want an authentic touch, San Pedro is the place to be since it is surrounded by many Spanish-English schools.
Although the lake is beautiful, environmental effects has slowly moved some residents to higher ground. Many residents who used to live near the lake’s edge have taken refuge on higher ground since water levels have risen in recent years.
Some buildings near the docks are still standing, but are flooded. While some of businesses are still in operation, others have been forced to surrender their bottom floors to the water.
Since I had no set plans, after San Pedro I ventured to Antigua, Semuc Champey and Guatemala City. Want to see more? See more from the annual festival that happened when I was on the grounds of Tikal, plus breathtaking views from atop the San Pedro Volcano and freshwater pools in Champey in the video below.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.