Blog of the trip to Mexico and Guatemala

Pictures of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador

Sunday, January 3, 2010, 12:26 PM
After returning to the USA, i learned of the "scandal" aroused by a proposed law against homosexuality in Uganda
and i wrote this article

Also, i am glad to find this excellent article in the New York Times on re-rape and autocannibalism:
Congo: ... istof.html
Those of you who heard these stories from me after i came back from Congo probably thought that i was exaggerating because there is so little coverage of these practices.
I am glad to finally see it discussed in a major newspaper. We need a lot more awareness about these things.

Central American trip
Monday, March 8, 2010, 12:19 PM

Getting ready for the Central American trip March 13-March 31.
Goal: precolumbian cities of central Mexico, revisit Guatemala,
visit El Salvador.


March 13: Mexico City (arrive 4pm)
March 14 SUN: Museo de Antropologia, Mexico City sights
March 15 MON: Tula, Teotihuacan
March 16 TUE: Tepotzotlan, Cacaxtla, Puebla,
WE 17: Xochicalco, travel to Palenque
Overnight bus from Mexico TAPO bus station leaves 18:10 arrives Palenque following day at 7:05AM costs $61
TH 18: Palenque, travel to Bonampak (bus) and Yaxchilan (22km by boat) at the border with Guatemala (Bethel)
FR 19: travel to Flores in Guatemala (4 hours from the border town of Bethel)
SA 20: Tikal
SU 21-25: El Mirador
FR 26: travel to Guatemala City
SA 27: travel to El Salvador
SU 27-28: El Salvador
MO 29-31: to be decided

Ciudad de Mexico
Saturday, March 13, 2010, 07:14 PM
The first impression of Mexico City is that everything is so easy and so cheap and so safe. tuesday.
Just the opposite of its reputation.
The only annoying thing so far is that almost every monument is closed on monday, so i need to maximize what i will see tomorrow and

$1=13 pesos
Free visa at the airport.
One hour internet is 8-10 pesos
Hotels are very cheap and transportation even cheaper

Avoid mondays. Most monuments are closed on mondays (basically, everything except for churches) and the government has moved all national holidays to mondays.
Things that you can see on a monday (if it is not a national holiday) in and around Mexico City: Teotihuacan, Cathedral and all churches, Xochimilco, Palacio Nacional.

Everything is huge. It is not only that things are far apart, but each thing requires a lot of time. A single murale may take 2 hours.
Churches are huge, museums are huge, the blocks of the city are huge.

The crowds are sometimes overwhelming, but always polite and well-behaved.

Transportation to the suburbs and nearby cities is incredibly good and efficient.

A super-efficient metro (despite the age of its cars), a super-helpful police force and super-polite ordinary citizens make it easy to reach and visit places.

Ciudad de Mexico is a fine city. I am impressed they manage to keep it clean, given its colossal size.
It is also ten times safer than the average USA city. People are polite and friendly. No aggressive dudes with tattoos and stuff, like in the USA.
Coming from crime-ridden San Francisco, it is really an ejoyable place.

I have to post this before i forget.
i was ashamed to hear that USA citizens cancel trips to Mexico for fear of crime. Mexican cities are much safer than USA cities, particularly San Francisco. I have traveled to 128 countries of the world and i consider SAn Francisco one of the most dangerous city in the world. There is no other city that i have visited that compares with San Francisco in terms of both petty and violent crime, except maybe Johannesburg and Nairobi
Unlike in USA cities, here people are friendly, helpful and polite.
There are police officers or traffic guards literally at every corner, and, unlike in the USA, there are not paid just to ambush and harass commuting taxpayers.
And lo and behold the streets are actually clean (unlike in San Francisco). And lo and behold there are no homeless on the sidewalk and nobody begging for money (unlike in San Francisco=.
Somebody from a USA city who won´t travel to Mexico for fear of crime is like somebody from Baghdad who won´t travel to Singapore for fear of suicide bombers.

My definition of a civilized and friendly country: they have public
phones that take coins. Just one coin and you can make a phone call.
Amazing, eh? No need for stupid telephone cards, cell phones, etc.
Just one regular coin.

Central Mexico
Saturday, March 13, 2010, 09:40 PM
Here is the list of all the things i want to see around Ciudad de Mexico (in parenthesis the location or metro station) (NOM means it´s closed on mondays):

Museo de Antropologia (NOM)
Catedral (Zocalo)
Palacio Nacional (Zocalo, monday to friday except holidays)
Templo Mayor (West of Zocalo, NOM)
Profesa (South of Zocalo on Isabel)
Museo Rivera (East of Zocalo)(NOM)
Ildefonso (North of Templo)(NOM)
Secretaria (North of Zocalo, monday to friday except holidays only at 1|0, 12 and 14) (Mo'Fr)
Bellas Artes (East of Zocalo) (NOM)
Tres Culturas (North of Zocalo)
Santa Fe, notably the ¨Lavadora¨ (Observatorio * bus)
San Angel (South)
Museo Frida (South)(NOM)
Virgen Milagrosa (Division del Norte)
Universidad Nacional (Mo-Fr)
Xochimilco (South)
Xochicalco (South)(NOM)
Taxco (south)
Teotihuacan (North)
Tenayuca (North)(NOM)
Tepotzotlan (North)(NOM)
Tula (North)(NOM)
Basilica Guadalupe (northwest)
Puebla (2 hours west)
Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl (near Puebla)(NOM)
Tlaxcala (near Puebla)(NOM)
Cholula (near Puebla) (NOM)

Autobus del Norte is the bus station for anything in the north (Teotihuacan, Tepotzlan, Tula).
Observatorio is the bus station for Morelia.
Tapo (metro San Lazaro) is the bus station for most of the rest. handles most bus companies.
Hotels downtown are cheaper than dormitories in the Condesa/Roma area.
For example, the dormitory at Hotel Home recommended by the Lonely Planet charges 150 pesos for one bed, but the Hotel Juarez near the Zocalo on Avenida Cinco de Mayo & Isabel charges 200 pesos for a single room with all comforts and 270 for a double room with two large beds.

Mexico City south and Puebla
Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 10:38 AM
Managed to see quite a few sights in Ciudad de Mexico

Virgen Milagrosa (metro Division del Norte, calle Matias Romero) is a good specimen of modernist architecture, somewhere in between Brazilia and St Mary´s in SAn Francisco.
Universidad Nacional (metro Universidad) the Biblioteca is one of the modern wonders of the world,completely covered with Juan O´Gorman morales; the Refectoria has three-dimensional murales; Farmacia has another wall-size mural. The nraby Stadio Olimpico is shaped like a volcano.

Santa Fe (metro Observatorio plus bus or taxi) is the neighborhood with the most futuristic architecture, notably the Conjunto Calakmul or ¨Lavadora¨, the ¨Pantalon¨ and the building next to it. There is also a modernist church next to the Lavadora.

Museo de Antropologia (metro Chapultepec, NOM, 49P) is colossal and very well organized.

The downtown square, Zocalo, is the second largest in the world.
Catedral (Zocalo) is flanked by a pretty Sacristia.
Palacio Nacional (Zocalo) contains a huge mural by Rivera.
Iglesia la Profesa (Southeast of Zocalo on Isabel and Madero) is a good example of baroque.

Tres Culturas (North of Zocalo, metro Tlatelolco) contains the ruins of the ancient city of Tlatelolco and the church of SAntiago of 1609.

Basilica Guadalupe (northwest, metro Deportivo) is a vast ensemble of churches. The most visible is the modern one, built in the 1970s. Then there is a vast sqaure with the two oldest buildings: the sinking old basilica and its batisterio, that date from the 16th century. Behind them there is an Arabic-style church. To its left is the pathway that climbs to the Capilla de las Rosas, at the top of the hill, with great views of the square.

It will take a while to see all the murales that i want to see.
Coollegio Ildefonso till 6pm free
SEP three floors free but only 10,12,2
Bellas Artes till 5pm costs 35p
Palacio 10 to 5pm free
All closed on mondays
I will have to distribute them over the next few days based on what is open when.

Xochimilco (South, metro Taxena plus Tren Ligero to the end) is famous for the floating gardens but is now mainly a tourist trap.
To get to Xochimilco take the metro to Taxena. Exit the station and turn right to the light trail. Xochimilco is the last station: 30 min 3 pesos. Walk to embarcadero if you want a boat. There is a pier specifically for the colectivo: 15 pesos 1h to the other side.
At the other side you can take a bus diretly to Taxena 1h 5 pesos.
But it might be nicer to just walk around the pathways.

Now i am in Puebla, a colonial and baroque town about two hours west of Mexico, and i will try to reach the ancient ruins of Cacaxtla this morning before heading back to Ciudad de Mexico.

Puebla 113 pesos, 2 hours from Tapo, plus a local bus from CAPU to Zocalo

Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 11:08 PM
On this third day i explored some western cities. I slept in Puebla, which is a colonial town (a big one). The best church (a classic of baroque sculpture) is Templo Santo Domingo. You have to see the altars to believe it.
Then i took collectivos to reach Cacaxtla, a 650-950 AD ruin on a hill. A bit of a hike to the ruins from the place where the bus left me, but nothing compared to the next one: Xochitecatl is on the hill across, but you have to retrace your steps, hitchhike or be lucky, and eventually hike up the hill 1.5 km. That is a much older ruin (800 BC).
Near Puebla is also Cholula, the largest pyramid in Mexico and second in the world after Giza.
It is interesting how many different civilizations lived on this plateau and fought for preminence until eventually the Aztec (briefly) conquered everybody.

Then i found transportation back to Ciudad de Mexico and barely made it to see the spectacular murales by Orozco in the Colegio Ildefonso.

Yesterday Yamile was with me. Today Valeriane arrived from France.

Tomorrow we head north for Teotihuacan (the most famous and probably biggest ruin around here) and Tula (Toltec civilization).

Cacaxtla Take Puebla to Xlotla but get off at the crossroad for Nativitas, then collectivo to Nativitas 5pesos then collectivo to Cacaxtlan 5 pesos
Cacaxtla 49 pesos closed on mondays, about 30 minutes from the bus terminal CAPU of Puebla.
Xochitecatl 49 pesos. To get there walk down the street from Cacaxtla to the main highway and take transportation that goes right to San Miguel. The turnout for the ruins (just afte the town) is marked by a colossal sign. Walk up that steep road 1.5 km. On the way back walk down to the same colossal sign and take anything that goes to the right to San Martin: 6.5 pesos 30 minutes. At the bus terminal of San Martin that are frequent buses to Ciudad de Mexico: 68 pesos 1.5 hours.

Whenever i come back to Ciudad de Mexico, i stay at
Hotel Juarez on Avenida 5 de Mayo, 1.5 blocks from Zocalo, 270 pesos for a double with two beds and private bath

Teotihuacan and Tula
Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 11:56 PM

Teotihuacan (the most famous and oldest of prehistoric cities around the capital) represents the classic period of this lost civilization that was already lost when the Aztecs discovered it. The Pyramid of the Sun dates from 150 AD (and it is the third largest pyramid ever built after the one on Cholula and the one in Giza). Next to it there are very nice botanic gardens that nobody visits.
The Pyramid of the Moon dates from 300 AD and is more graceful than big. It also surrounded by 12 platforms that enhance the aesthetics.
The other end of the axis is occupied by the Ciudadela, that contains the temple of the plumed serpent, the only significant decoration of this site.
This civilization collapsed in about 800 AD and nobody really knows why. The Aztecs thought that this was a giant cemetery.

Tepotzotlan is a small colonial town whose Museo del Virreinato contains two of the most baroque chapels of Mexico. You have to see the retablos to believe it.

Further north Tula was the capital of the Toltec civilization between 900 and 1150 AD. There is just one major attraction: the giant statues placed on the highest pyramid.

Teotihuacan is best reached from Autobus del Norte metro station in about 40 minutes. Entrance is 51 pesos.
Tepotzotlan is closed on mondays and is reached from Autobus del Norte in about 1 hour.
Tula is closed on mondays and is reached after Tepotzotlan by the same bus route (about 2 hours from Tepotzotlan).

Templo Mayor, murales and Xochicalco
Thursday, March 18, 2010, 01:51 PM
First i saw the Templo Mayor, the main Aztec ruin in Mexico City (or better Tenochtitlan as the Aztecs called it).
It is a good place to see the various layers of temples. To commemorate the seventh in 1487 the Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 people.
Most people underestimate how brutal these Mesoamerican civilizations were.

Then i visited more of the Diego Rivera murales. The Secretaria Education Publica is completely covered with murales, all three floors. It is a great display of Rivera´s art, and personally i think that the ideology frequently prevails over the art (and the ideology did not age well).
Across from the SEP is the Palacio de la Inquisicion, which has a nice facade, and across the square is SAnto Domingo.
Then i went to Bellas Artes (near the Alameda Park, metro Bellas Artes) to see Rivera´s Man in Control of his Universe, one of his most surrealistic and futuristic murales. Bellas Artes itself is an art noveau building that stands out in colonial Mexico City.
Nearby is the Correo that deserves a visit too. Then i walked the whole Calle Madero back to the Zocalo.

Most murales are inspired by Marxism. This seems to be the doctrine of the Mexican intellectuals. The woman who escorted us to visit the SEP, for example, spent 25% of the time explaining a very ugly mural that is at the ground floor (not a Rivera mural). The mural depicts the history of Latin America with all its cultures. The USA is simply a black region. She explained that it means that the USA has no culture, unlike the various regions of South America. Needless to say this is a bit puzzling, because the whole of Latin America exported only one thing to the USA: dancing (salsa, tango, etc). On the contrary the USA exported to Latin America just about everything else, from dress codes to technology, from economics to cinema. A lot more USA writers and scientists won Nobel Prizes than the whole of Latin America combined. And today it is the Mexican kids who play hiphop and heavymetal everywhere, not the kids of the USA who play Mexican music.

Then i traveled south to see another ancient ruin.
Xochicalco is one of the most impressive ruins i have seen in Central America. The city was a crossroad of civilizations. It has three football fields and a colossal acropolis. One of the best places where to study the cosmology of the ancient people.

Then it took a bit of creativity to reach Taxco, where i am sleeping.

I could write a lot about how honest and trustworthy everybody is.
That is the best surprise of the trip.

Templo Mayor: one block north of Zocalo on Calle Guatemala, 51 pesos, closed on mondays
Secretaria Education Publica in Plaza Domingo north of Zocalo open monday-friday except holidays and only at 10am, 12pm and 2pm
Bellas Artes (near the Alameda Park, metro Bellas Artes) 35 pesos and no photo allowed inside. Closed on mondays.
Xochicalco is closed on mondays and is reached from Taxena bus station. The nearest stop is at Miacatlan (91 pesos, 2 hours). Then i took a taxi for 25 pesos to the entrance of the ruins.
The bus to Taxco goes by the nearby highway. I took a taxi for 50 pesos to the bus stop on the highway. From there it costs 61 pesos to travel to Taxco.
Taxco is a city on a hill. The bus station is at the bottom. Nearby is the Hotel Anita (250 fr a double room). The other hotels and all the attractions are up the hill (very steep streets and stairways).

Taxco and last Rivera mural
Friday, March 19, 2010, 12:02 PM

Taxco is one of the best preserved colonial towns (narrow alleys, stairways, small squares, etc). A lot of fun to walk around. And good exercise.

Then i returned to Mexico City to see just one more Diego Rivera mural, the one that is located inside the Rivera Museum (Sueno).

I think Diego Rivera is a bit overrated. Most of his murales use a facile symbolism to deliver his anticapitalistic rants. The symbolism is not aging well (good luck understanding most of the references even if you are Mexican). As far as the ideology goes, it would be interesting to see what Rivera would feel today: capitalism has won worldwide, and all his oppressed campesinos and workers want to become capitalists.

Tonight overnight bus to Palenque, a whole state and civilization away.

Taxco to Taxena in Mexico City takes 2.5 hours 140 pesos.
Museo Rivera (closed on mondays, metro Hidalgo, 20 pesos)
TAPO bus station to Palenque 800 pesos leaves at 6pm

Frontera Corozal
Saturday, March 20, 2010, 09:13 PM
I am in a small (really small) village at the border between Mexico and Guatemala, surrounded by jungle and separated from the other side by the river. And even here there is an internet cafe. And luckily here it is so hot that they OPEN at 5pm and close when it cools down (will see if it does). The temperature was 41 degrees at the bus terminal at 4pm and it is not much less now.

Yesterday night we took the bus from TAPO (Mexico City´s main bus station) to Palenque. We arrived in Palenque town at 8am. Not only was the bus on time but it was also a smooth ride. We headed straight for the ruins, which are about 15 minutes from here. I was in Palenque in 1990. The improvements are breathtaking. It literally feels like a different place. The number of temples that one can visit is bigger and their conditions has vastly improved. Some things get better with age :-)
This is the first Maya city of the trip. So far it has been Teotihuacan (mysterious culture), Toltec (Tula), Zapatec (Xochicalco) and Aztec (Templo Mayor). The contrast and similarities would take a book. It is really worth seeing them one after the other.

(I have to stop typing every few minutes because i have sweat continuously dropping on the keyboard!)

We finished Palenque at 1pm and took a collectivo towards Frontera Corozal. I really have to emphasize all the time how good transportation is in Mexico. So far i never had to wait for more than one hour wherever i wanted to go. This town is as godforsaken as it gets, and, still, there was a bus within a few minutes to come here. It was a high-speed ride with very few passengers on a recently paved road. We arrived in Frontera Corozal at 3:30pm. I had planned to be here by night. After taking another amazingly clean, spatious and cheap room, we tried to explore the town but the heat killed us after a few minutes. Now that the sun set it is a bit better. Anyway i managed to find a boat to go to visit the remote ruins of Yaxchitlan that can be reached only by boat (on Mexican side of the river). Then we will return here and take the boat to the other side, where there is a border post and a Guatamalteca town, and hopefully a bus to Flores (about 3 hours from the border, the base to Tikal).

So far so good. I have managed to see all the ruins and all the colonial, baroque and modern art that i wanted to see. The pace was frequently frantic because everything is so HUGE, but i think it was worth it. I already took 1200 pictures.

Overnight bus from TAPO to Palenque: 6pm, 14 hours, 800 pesos
Ticket to enter Parque Palenque: 25 pesos
Luggage deposit: 15 pesos per piece
Collectivo from Palenque town to ruins: 10 pesos, 15 minutes
Entrance to ruins: 51 pesos
There is a suggested itinerary that works quite well and ends at the museum. From the museum it is a long way to walk back to the entrance,
or one can take a collectivo coming from Palenque town.
The bus terminal for Frontera Corozal is just before Palenque town. Buses leave every hour 100 pesos 2.5 hours, good road, almost no stops en route.
In Frontera Corozal the infrastucture is minimal. We heard of two hotels. One is four blocks from the bus terminal: Hotel Elizabeth (200 pesos for a large room with two beds and private bath). The other one requires a taxi but seems to have more varied accomodation and also internet (Escudo Jaguaro).
The embarcadero for the boats is quite far from downtown. THe boats are big. Renting a whole boat for Yaxchitlan costs 800 pesos. If you put together a bigger group, the prices goes down significantly. (We found a school that is taking four boats to go there and the boat owner will charge us 150 pesos each to join that group).

Sunday, March 21, 2010, 11:34 PM
Yaxchilan used to be virtually inaccessible. Now there is a paved road to Frontera Corozal and fast motorboats take you there in 45 minutes. Worse: many agencies combine a visit to Palenque with a visit to more adventurous Yaxchilan. We were lucky in the morning: we got there before the tour groups and enjoyed the main square literally alone. The tourists started pouring in when we were almost done with all the ruins so most of my pictures have no people at all.
Yaxchilan was one of the many city-states of the Maya empire. Its peak was about 600-850 AD. The place is well-preserved. There are four main groups: the main square, an imposing acropolis on top of a seriously challenging staircase (about 10 meter wide and 100 meter tall), a higher acropolis and a small acropolis.
Palenque is slightly better but a lot more famous because it has been available to tourists for much longer. In terms of spectacular setting, Yaxchilan is not second to anything because you need the 45 minute boat ride and then you are literally walking in the jungle, with the big temples emerging slowly from the thick vegetation.

After Yaxchilan we returned to Frontera Corozal, picked up our luggage, went to the immigration post, and took another boat, this time to Bethel, the entry point in Guatemala, about 40 minutes in the other direction of the river. (There is also a small town, Tecnica, across from Frontera Corozal but i wasn´t sure if there is a Guatemala immigration post and it looked like transportation would have been a gamble).
Bethel is quite basic. We had to wait two hours for transportation to show up and it was a rundown van that rapidly became overcrowded (i counted 28 people inside and three on the roof at the peak). We only got one flat tire en route and happily reached Flores in about 4 hours. Flores is the main launching point for a visit to Tikal, so we are suddenly surrounded by tourists from all over the world, including USA tourists who are easy to recognize because of their strong accent. And it was relatively easy to find an internet cafe open till late.

The original plan was to spend one day in Tikal and then do something more adventurous. This will be my fourth time in Tikal.
Tikal was considered for a long time the largest Maya city. There are literally hundreds of buildings that still have to be escavated out of the jungle. Every time that i have been here there was a new pyramid open to tourists. Alas, it will take centuries to dig up everything.
In the 1970s the archeologists discovered a large area that might be an even bigger city. The locals call it El Mirador. The original plan was to hike to El Mirador. That plan is almost certainly aborted because 1. We are told that we would have to wait till thursday, and 2. It is raining. So i will try to do something easier before heading for El Salvador.

Motorboat from Frontera Corozal to Yaxchilan 200 pesos for the roundtrip, 45 minutes
Entrance to Yaxchilan (that must be purchased in Frontera Corozal) 49 pesos
Motorboat to Bethel: 200 pesos for 45 minutes

General notes on Mexico
Sunday, March 21, 2010, 11:50 PM
Overall the experience in Mexico was way more positive than expected, especially in the capital.
People are super friendly and hospitable. Police officers treat us like kings. Ordinary people kind and helpful. If there is any crime, i didn´t see it and didn´t feel it at all. You are super safe in metros, museums, downtown and many other places because police presence is massive.

People are so polite, well-behaved and well-dressed that i feel ashamed that i am richer than them. In an ideal world the pesos would be worth 10 times a euro and 5 times a dollar.

I noticed a contrast between how religious ordinary Mexicans are and the almost hostile way in which the Church is depicted by the government. It is a subtle message, but is just about everywhere. Government offices emphasize the Inquisition and the exploitation of the indios by the priests, but then ordinary people still perform rituals that have long disappeared in Italy.

Signs of a superior civilization:
1. They use the metric system (the USA uses the old Roman imperial system as adapted by the old British empire)
2. Prices are... the prices (in the USA the price is never the price because somehow the customer is supposed to add the unknown local taxes)

I had second thoughts about the precolumbian civilizations.
Those were brutal civilizations: the Aztecs sacrificed 20000 people when they inaugurated the seventh temple in Tenochtitlan in 1487, and their supreme god killed 400 of his family to become the chief.
Human sacrifice was common throughout the region till 1492. Europeans had the inquisition and countless wars, but i think Mesoamerica had a cult of death for the sake of death that is a bit more barbaric.
Last but not least, their civilizations were centuries behind the European, Chinese, Indian and Arab civilizations.
I honestly wonder if the Spanish and Portuguese enslaved these people or liberated them from worse masters. Open to debate, of course.
I just find it puzzling that the new age generation in the USA takes these civilizations as inspiration. Their kind of spirituality is an abomination to me.

Crime and drug war.
While i was in Mexico, three USA officials were killed by gangs.
Mexican gangs are big news in the USA, but USA media tend to neglect the vicious circle that starts in the USA and ends in the USA.
Guns are largely illegal in Mexico. The gangs buy their gangs in the USA. How do they get the money is simple: they sell drugs to the USA.
So the USA citizens fund these gangs and USA gun stores sell them the weapons. Mexico is the victim.

I had a first hand experience of how the truth is in the eye of the beholder. The Lonely Planet book describes a temple in Palenque as "obviously inspired by hallucinogenics". I asked a man who worked for 20+ years in the ruins and he told me a long story that had no drugs in it. I asked a random tourist and she told me that it was very geometric and reminded her of high school. But the Lonely Planet writer thought it was "obvious" that the style is inspired by drugs...
It's a bit like everybody in the SAn Francisco Bay Area is convinced that homosexuality was pervasive among Romans and Greeks.

Flores, Guatemala
Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 04:50 PM

From Frontera Corozal in Mexico there are boats that go to Bethel in Guatemala.
(We heard that soon there will be a bridge connecting Mexico to Guatemala, so it will be possible to travel from Palenque to Tikal with no adventure).
Bethel is a small village. There are irregular buses to Flores. There were no other turists waiting. In fact, no other people.
When it arrived around 3pm, the bus was actually just a van full of people. The road is bad for about one hour, then it is paved and fast. Immigration is 3 kms from Bethel. Flores keeps growing and SAnta Elena is becoming a metropolis. These were small villages just ten years ago. Now there are all comforts. Alas, the prices went up with tourism.
There are all sorts of buses to get to Tikal, and Tikal has internet, restaurants, etc.
Just like Palenque has been improved tenfold, so Tikal is becoming easier and easier to reach and visit. This being my fourth time here, i feel that the jungle setting and the remote location helped. Now that it is rapidly becoming a mandatory stop for the casual tourist coming from Belize or from Mexico, the ruins have lost some of their magic. It is still the largest Maya ruin, but one can pay more attention to the quality of the art and Tikal suffers from it.
It used to be #2 in my list of wonders of the world but i think it will demote it a bit.
The good news is that every time i come to Tikal there are new things open to the public. This time i also wandered quite far from the main ruins to check things i had never seen before.
The temples have been cleaned up and there are paved trails from one area to the next one. The really bad news is that Western bullshit has arrived: there are signs dont do this and dont do that everywhere.
You have to stick to the paved trails and there is no pyramid that you can climb to the very top. The park closes at 6pm (it used to be possible to hike in the night and even camp on top of Temple IV, the tallest in the Americas). There is still enough jungle however that it makes for a nice botanical garden besides archeological park.
Animals we saw: one crocodile, tucans, spider monkeys, lots of coatimundi. A lot less than in previous times but if you don´t know how it was in the past you get excited anyway.
I showed Valeriane how to do Tarzan with the vines and of course after five minutes she was a lot better than me.
This is the one place where we saw mostly western tourists. Even Palenque had more nationals than foreigners, but here the foreigners prevail massively. Many of them were coming from Belize.

At 4pm we took the bus to Uaxactum, the end of the road and the last ruins opened to the public by the archeologists so far. Uaxactum is a small village with two hotels (very very basic( and one restaurant (even more basic). It really was just an air strip. All the buildings are located around the old air strip (which is now used to play soccer).
There are two groups of ruins, at the two ends of the village.
Most impressive is a temple with four giant faces on each side, that reminded me of the Bayon in Angkor.
We didn't have to pay any entrance fee for Uax. Not sure what the official rules are. Needless to say, not a tourist around.
After a very cold night, we finished the tour of the ruins and then we looked for transportation to get back to Tikal. Easier said than done.
There is no official transportation during the day, so we had to wait until a truck came going in the direction of Tikal. They dropped us in the middle of Tikal and we walked out without paying any ticket. Then we rejoined the happy crowds of tourists waiting for official transportation to Flores.

Flores is a pretty town on an island in the middle of a lake. It could be a very nice place if traffic were not allowed. Not only are there cars everywhere but they tend to be vans and SUVs used by the travel agencies, which ruin any picture you take of the colonial buildings (that tend to be low).

Tonight we will take an overnight bus to Ciudad de Guatemala and then a direct connection to go to El Salvador, that i have never seen.

I already noticed it in Mexico but it's very visible here: the Eurokids (the kids coming from Europe with their parents' euros( cause inflation. For them things are extremely cheap so there is no need to bargain for a 20% discount. Sometimes they pay 3 or 4 times the running price. They mostly hire taxis instead of taking public transportation. Etc.

Guatemala is significantly poorer than Mexico, and also a lot less safe (although still safer than the average USA city).

Boat from Frontera Corozal to Bethel 200 pesos 45 minutes
1$=8 quetzal
Immigration 40 quetzal
bus to Flores 80 quetzal
Hotel Continental in Santa Elena 125 quetzal
Roundtrip bus to Tikal 60 quetzal
Entrance to Tikal 150 Q or $21
Bus to Uaxactum 10Q only at 4pm takes 45'
Hotel Chiklero in Uaxactum 100Q
Visiting the ruins is free
Returning to Tikal the only bus is at 7am, which is impractical so one needs to hitchhike.
In Flores a good restaurant is SAn Telmo (28Q for a pasta dish) and the most popular internet cafe is right across the street (8Q per hour).
Overnight bus to Ciudad de Guatemala: 9pm, 200 pesos, 9 hours.

Suchitoto, El Salvador
Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 07:24 PM

I have been in Guatemala four times so this time i skipped all of it after the jungle of Peten and its Maya ruins. An overnight bus took me to the capital (a rather nondescript city) and a 3-hour bus ride took me to the border with El Salvador. Immigration formalities are a breeze here. Two hours later i was in San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador) looking for a bus to Suchitoto, one of the two famous colonial towns. The town is really small but at least quiet. Nothing that compares with the architecture and the churches in Mexico.
Tomorrow i´ll find out how to reach the other colonial gem, Allegria,
also in the hills.

The first impression is that life is unbelievably cheap in El Salvador (the 60km bus ride to Suchitoto cost $0.75). It also seems to be more USA-influenced than Guatemala and Mexico. Lots of people speak English. It reminds me of Costarica (by far my least favorite country in this part of the world, so not a compliment).

As everywhere else, people are nice, polite, helpful, and i feel totally safe, way safer than in a European capital or in a USA city.

Flores-Ciudad de Guatemala 9pm-6am 200 quetzal = $25
Transfer by taxi to Melva bus station in zona 9
Ciudad de Guatemala - San Salvador 120 quetzal, 5 hours
No visa needed if you are coming from Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua
The currency in El SAlvador is the USA dollar
San Salvador - Suchitoto from Terminal del Oriente $0.75, 1h
Hotel in Suchitoto: Blanca Luna $7 per person.

San Salvador, El Salvador
Saturday, March 27, 2010, 10:02 AM
El Salvador is the 129th country that i have visited in my life.
It is relatively developed and has a strong USA influence, abit like Costarica, especially in the way they take a small attraction and exaggerate its beauty to attract tourists, with the complicity of friendly media. For example, the Lonely Planet book says that Alegria is an "unsung gem". Well, it's just a regular village.
San Salbvador itself, the capital, is a very polluted city. Downtown looks intimidating but it's probably just the appearance.

Valeriane and i parted ways. She began her return trip to Mexico City while i need to find a way to explore other countries. My idea is to return to California via some other route. The bad news is that this coming week is a holy week throughout Latin America, so probably not the best time to travel around (everybody gets the week off).

Hotel Custodio Internacional, in the center, $18 for two, very friendly.

Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico
Saturday, March 27, 2010, 08:40 PM
A very disappointing day. I woke up early to find out what flights i could take to get out of Guatemala. It turns out today is the beginning of the semana santa, the holy week before Easter, and millions of people are on the move for their vacations.

Eventually i found out that there are frequent buses to the border with Mexico from the terminal of the Transmetro. I got there and took the first one. Now i just crossed the border with Mexico.
Basically, i have decided to cut my trip short. Pointless to travel around here during the semana santa.

Transmetro from Plaza Barrios in Guatemala City to Cenma: 1Q, 30 minutes. Downstairs there are several bus companies. To Tecum Uman: 5 hours, $7.
The bus leaves you 1km from immigration. Hire a tricycle to the immigration post. Then another one to the Mexican immigration across the bridge. You can also walk easily but they know where to stop for the stamps. The Mexican side of Tecum Uman is called Ciudad Hidalgo.
Hospedaje Suciate 150 pesos for AC, tv, private bath, etc etc.

Morelia, Mexico
Sunday, March 28, 2010, 06:38 PM
Visited Morelia, north of Mexico CIty. Tomorrow i fly to Tijuana and reenter the USA.

Bus to Morelia from Observatorio: 360 pesos, 4 hours

General notes on Central America that need to be expanded.

First and foremost, the people here are amazingly friendly, helpful, hospitable, honest. There is literally an order of magnitude of difference between here and the cold attitudes of Western people. As a consequence, the traveler is much safer here than in the West. You can go just about anywhere and always be surrounded by people (including a huge number of police officers) who are more than willing to help you and protect you.

The war on drugs. Mexican newspapers are full of angry editorials accusing the USA of funding and arming terrorism in Mexico. I totally agree. The drug cartels get their money by selling drugs to dumb USA citizens. Then they use the money to buy weapons in the USA (there are no gun stores in Mexico). Then they terrorize Mexican cities and even buy Mexican politicians. This is all caused by the USA.
Under international law, i believe that Mexico is entitled to military intervention in the USA, just like the USA bombed and invaded a country where its enemies were being funded and armed. Mexico is entitled to bomb gun stores locared in the USA, and is entitled to wage a war (a real war) against USA citizens who consume drugs. If you have done drugs, you are funding the drug cartels, and you are de facto attacking Mexico. Mexico should be entitled to retaliate by attacking your house.

The war on morality.
When i was traveling in Africa i wrote this article on how the WEst is waging a subtle war against morality:
The same phenomenon is visible in Latin America, where people tend to be polite, well-behaved and well-dressed, all words that are rapidly becoming meaningless or even politically incorrect in the West.
The West taught the people of these countries what a proper behavior is. The West was very successful in spreading its moral values to these societies. Now the same West tells them that the traditional behavior is ridiculous and promotes violence, drugs and promiscuity.

The most amazing thing is how successful the Christians were in converting these societies to Christianity. These now rank among the most Catholic societies in the world. In fact, they rank among the most pure of Catholic societies. Islam is virtually inexistent, and Jews are a tiny minority.
Incidentally, Muslims have a unique way to always punish their friends and reward their enemies. The two Christian countries that killed most Muslims are by far France and Russia, but Muslims are mad at Israel (that killed only a few thousands) and the USA (whose intervention has always been on the side of Muslims, whether you like that side or not). By the same token, very few Muslims notice that the only place in the American continent where Islam has made a dent is the USA. The USA is de facto the Trojan horse of Islam in the Americas.

Pictures of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador

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