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// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


GUATEMALA CITY Guatemala has been called the 'Heart of the Mayan World' both because many of the largest and most powerful Mayan city-states were located here and also because today the Mayan cultural influence is still so strong. Forty-percent of the country speaks one of two-dozen living Mayan languages of Guatemala and it's possible to meet locals who speak no Spanish. I actually entered Guatemala at Livingston (which you'll see later down) but I thought I'd start with the capital, Guatemala City... but don't let the photos fool you, it's not a particularly pleasant place. The rest of the country, however, is downright magical.
LIVINGSTON This is where I actually entered Guatemala (by boat, no less). I took a ferry from Punta Gorda in Belize, an hour long trip which hugged the coastline, passing some dense jungles and shipwrecked boats, before arriving in the port here which has its own tiny immigration office. Livingston is cut off from the rest of Guatemala by a near impenetrable rain forest and for this reason is culturally distinct. Well perhaps the real reason that it feels so different from the rest of the country is that this is largely a Garifuna town. See my Belize page for a bit more about the Garifuna, but they are the descendants of shipwrecked Africans on slave ships who washed up on Caribbean islands and then fled into the jungles, intermarried with the local natives, and were eventually relocated by England to the Central American coasts where they've been to this day.
RIO DULCE As I said, dense jungles cut off the Guatemalan coast from the mountainous highlands that make up most of the country, jungles that mark both a physical and cultural barrier. In order to cross those jungles, one must journey upriver by boat on the Rio Dulce, a memorizing waterway surrounded on all sides by rain forest and indigenous fishing villages. I stayed a few days here, in a small river lodge tucked away on a tributary. The photos of the lodge are below; of the thatched roofed balcony room where I slept, the open air library, the vegetarian dinners shared with the other guests every night. This was a little piece of paradise carved out the harsh jungle.
FLORES Once I crossed the jungles via the Rio Dulce, I literally came to civilization in the form of a busy highway. There was a collection of small ticket offices for various bus companies, selling journeys in both directions. I bought a ticket heading north, and traveled several hours to Flores, a small island town in the center of a large lake. Before the arrival of the Spanish, this had been a Mayan town called Nojpetén. It's really not much more than an outcropping of land surrounded by water (you can see an aerial shot of the island and town below in the third photo) but I enjoyed it very much. The real reason people come here, however, is to gain access to Tikal. But more on that later.
TIKAL Tikal (probably known to the Mayans as Yax Mutal) is one of the most important Mayan sites in Mesoamerica. Now nearly completely consumed by the jungle, it was, during its height, perhaps the greatest and largest of all the Mayan city-states, conquering many of its neighbors, trading with other kingdoms as far north as Central Mexico, and preserving a great amount of its history in written codices and engravings. It is estimated there are more than 3000 structures in the site, though only a handful have been excavated. Most are still buried and hidden in the surrounding jungles which took over when the Mayan Civilization collapsed some centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. Also, if the first photo below looks familiar, click on it for a small Star Wars Easter egg.
SEMUC CHAMPEY Semuc Champey is a natural valley area in the north of the country near the Q'eqchi' Maya town of Lanquin. What you're seeing in the first few photos is actually a natural limestone 'bridge' covered in step pools. Under the bridge is the Cahabón River which flows through caves underground. Things to note below: the town of Lanquin, where the locals are hitting a MINIONS pinanta of all things. The thatch-roofed lodge where I stayed complete with a sitting area over the river. And finally a trip into the cave river, one of the most unique things I've ever done. It's an hours long excursion with nothing but candles, wading and sometimes swimming upriver in total darkness, occasionally climbing up small waterfalls, always hoping one other person still has their candle lit so you can relight your own. Fantastic.
IXIL TRIANGLE SANTA AVELINA // NEBAJ // COTZAL Isolated from much of the world by jagged mountains are three Ixil Mayan towns forming a rough triangle. Because of their isolation, the Mayan cultural traditions are strong here, nearly every one is in traditional dress, the local radio stations broadcast in the Ixil Mayan language, and my guide even invited me to his house where his wife and mother cooked me some traditional Ixil food (the bottom photos). But there's a dark history here as well. The former military dictatorship of Guatemala undertook campaigns as recently as the 1990s to wipe out the indigenous Mayan peoples (who often sided by the opposition). Some of the most brutal repressions in the country occurred here in these towns, where thousands of villagers were killed, tortured, or disappeared.
CHICHICASTENANGO Leaving the north I continued my travels further south, and arrived at the market town of Chichicastenango. The town is a major cultural center for the K'iche' Maya. In fact, according to wikipedia, 98% of the municipality's population is indigenous K'iche' Mayan. 21% of the population speak only K'iche while 71% speak both K'iche and Spanish. Also note the 'chicken buses' in the last few photos. These are converted US school buses, repainted, rebranded, and seen ubiquitously across the country (and all of Central America really). I took a great many of these on my travels.
LAKE ATITLAN From Chichicastenango it was a straight shot to Lake Atitlan, which many had told me was perhaps the most beautiful lake in the world. After seeing it, I might agree. This is a highland lake surrounded on all sides by mountains and volcanoes and dotted with several traditional Mayan villages. I rented a room from a local Mayan family--- you can see below in the last photos. Check out the view.
ANTIGUA My last stop in Guatemala was the ancient colonial city of Antigua, where I rented an apartment and stayed for a month to rest and work on my photos. Founded in 1543 as the capital of Spanish Guatemala (the third capital actually; the first having been attacked by the Kaqchikel Mayans and the second having been wiped out by a volcano) today it is a UN World Heritage site. Tragedy struck in 1773 when an earthquake wiped out much of the city (and the capital was once again moved... Guatemala seemed to have pretty bad luck when it came to capitals). As one of the major centers of the Catholic church in the New World, Antigua had been home to many grand cathedrals as well, most of which collapsed during the earthquake, but whose ruins are preserved and have become tourist attractions even (see the final few photos). But alas, after my month in this wonderful city was up, it was time to go...
el salvador