Our Central America tour (18): Quirigua and Livingston

After the ‘luxury’ of two consecutive nights in the same hotel in Honduras, on Saturday things became more ‘spartan’ with us reduced to an overnight bag for our next hotel somewhere up a river in Guatemala. Meanwhile our luggage went who knows where.

It was a short journey back into Guatemala where the whole of the remainder of our holiday is to take place. It took no time to cross the border where we headed north and then turned north-east to make our way to Quirigua. The climate here was different: cooler, more humid, and – for a short time – drizzly.

The little-visited Mayan ruins of Quirigua, now a World Heritage Site, have some of the finest carvings in the country and the site is particularly famed for its intricately-carved large stelae. Quirigua was a dependency of Copan for much of the classic period but, in 738, the local leader, who had the catchy name of! K’ak Tilaw Chan Yo’at (known to historians more colourfully as Stormy Sky), kidnapped King Rabbit 18, had him executed and made Quirigua independent, leading to the flowering of the work of the stonecutters.

The site has a small museum with all the descriptions in Spanish (Sandra explained it all). As well as other structures, there are eight major stelae located where they were found and covered for protection. Stella E is the largest Maya stela known: it is 8 metres above ground, almost 3 metres below ground, and weighs an incredible near 60 tons.

We were at Quirigua for almost two hours before setting off again. We were now in a corner of Guatemala called Izabal sandwiched between Belize to the north and Honduras to the south. It is here that Guatemala has a short stretch of coast on the Caribbean Sea (in the south of the country, Guatemala has a lengthy coastline on the Pacific).

We journeyed to a town called Fronteras where the Lago de Izabal joins the Rio Dulce and here we stopped for a light lunch at a place called “Ristorante Hacienda Tijax”. Then we boarded a fibre-glass motor boat for our trip up the Rio Dulce. It is called a river but really it feels more like a lake because of its width and islands. This is humid tropical rain forest territory, so very atmospheric.

It was now overcast and, as soon as the boat picked up speed, rather windy and splashy, so Vee & Roger were pleased that they had brought along their kagools. From time to time, the motor was stopped and we glided by islands observing local water birds : more ospreys, more egrets, more cormorants, and this time pelicans. When we stopped to observe birds at one of the inhabited islands, young girls paddled up to us in small canoes and tried to sell us trinkets.

It took us two hours to reach our destination of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. The town is named after the American jurist and politician Edward Livingston who wrote the codes that were used as the basis for the liberal government of the United Provinces of Central America. Livingston is known locally as Buga which means mouth in the local Garifuna language. There are some special characteristics of Livingston. First, it cannot be accessed by road so life is based on boats. Second, it is noted for its unusual mix of Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino people and culture.

Our accommodation for the night was Hotel Villa Caribe – an upmarket version of the chalet-type living with which we have become so familiar. Outside the sliding glass doors making up one wall of our room, we stepped out on a veranda overlooking a large swimming pool, palm trees and then the Caribbean – sheer magic.

At Livingston, we all chose to have dinner at the hotel where we found ourselves entertained by a group of eight musicians and dancers who were as black as any West Indian, sang in the local Garifuna language, and shook their derrières vigorously. In the night, it crashed with rain for hours.


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