Ñyapa’s keel hiccupped over the shallow bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce. Each swell helped to pick us up and carry us into what immediately felt like a fairy tale land set in another time. This is a bird watcher’s paradise and we began our trip through the canyon with birds of many feathers swooping and gliding all around us. The launches zoomed by, ferrying passengers to and from Livingston, the town at the mouth of the Rio. We have arrived in Guatemala and what a dramatic entrance it is!
The river winds through steep, vine-covered walls of green and it was recommended to stay in the middle where there is plenty of depth. On the edges, locals paddle their dug out canoes, avoiding the substantial currents that swirl and eddy like boiling water in a pot. Even a boat Ñyapa’s size gets carried off by these currents, sending us swiftly to one side of the river or the other. The pass through the gorge is seven spectacular miles of unspoiled jungle wilderness that was worth the effort to see.
We know what we want to see and how long we want to stay because we have been forewarned!! More than one sailor has come up the Rio and not made it back out. Why? This place casts a spell that leaves many completely smitten and enchanted. But this is not going to happen to us, no way, we’re on a mission and we have time constraints!! So off to Tortugal Marina we go to tie up Ñyapa so we can begin our inland travel.
Our first trip was to Tikal, which I have already written about. Next up is Antigua, a place I fell in love with years ago but have never returned to. The bus trip is another full day journey which takes us into the heart of Guatemala City to catch a collectivo (a small bus) which carries us the rest of the way to Antigua.
As soon as we step out into the Main Plaza, I feel that old love come surging back. We quickly find our B&B which is absolutely lovely with a balcony overlooking the cobblestone street below and a very restorative sitting area. I am in love with everything and want to begin my street stalking immediately! I just made that up, but really it describes perfectly what I spend the next two days doing.
Antigua is not large and it is a walking lover’s delight as each turn brings a new surprise with glimpses into grand courtyards and mellowed walls crumbling from age or earthquakes. A walk through the Central Plaza has me spellbound as many local Mayan women and children approach with a smile to sell their textiles. Their clothing is a work of art – period! The colors are brilliant and the detailed embroidery is absolutely stunning.
It is the weekend and unbeknownst to us, there is a celebration practiced every Sunday through Lent. As we are walking around enjoying ourselves a minister from the USA approaches us and tells us not to miss the carpeting of the streets being done a few blocks away and he explains that later a procession will go through trampling all the carefully designed “carpets” made of flowers and dyed shavings. “Just follow the crowds,” he tells us so we are off to see what we can.
The blocked streets are filled with pedestrians that move like a river’s current past the bright carpets. At one point John and I began to move against the stream and it became impossible to move forward. We gave up and caught our breath in one of the small plazas. Later that evening we caught up with the purple – robed procession of men carrying large alters with religious effigies. Apparently the procession goes on all day until midnight. Not something we see everyday in our little village in New York.
I can’t write about Antigua without mentioning how perfect the climate is (warm during the day and cool at night) and how the volcanoes that surround it give this small city with a unique energy that is indescribable. Our time in Antigua passes much too quickly and although I haven’t had my fill of all the color and texture here, I soak up as much of the atmosphere as I can before we catch the bus that will take us back to the Rio.
It was with reluctance when, just a few days later we slip our lines from the pilings at Tortugal Marina and once again make our way back through the canyon to the salt water of the sea. As we leave I fully understand the pull that keeps many people here and many returning each year. I am so grateful that we were able to stop, even for a short period.