Guatemala Part VI: Aguateca


I was worried about making it to Sayache, so I woke up at like 0630 and got my stuff together and left the hotel at like 0700. I found a Tuk-Tuk and told him I was going to Sayache and so he sped me off to the bus station and found me the right bus. I pretty much stepped off the tuk-tuk, stepped onto the bus, and off we went. We patrolled the town slightly for more riders, stopping at the market for a while, but so far, I had been impressed with Guatemalan busses by how little they stay waiting for passengers. They’ll go with less than a full bus confident they’ll pick up people along the way. The conductors in Guatemala and in Zambia could otherwise be close brothers, however. The ride out the side and yell in the same way, and today I even got a “yes boss.” So that reminded me of Zambia.

In the market I saw some stuff, including a whole stack of saddles on the back of a truck that were to stock up some store for sale. I also in Sayache saw some like, home-made saddles (I think) out of I think cow-hide. So it is a whole thing. I wrote down in my notebook that the minibus was squeezing through the market, and there was not a lot of clearance for sure. I saw a guy in a “USS Enterprise CVN-65” hat so I thought that was neat. I saw an absolutely gigantic bull on the back of a pickup truck in one of those cages they have on the back of the trucks, with its horns sticking out the top. I bothered to look today too and I saw street food vendors cooking over both gas and wood but no charcoal. I wonder why? Some other things I noted to note was that I haven’t been stared at, which, I dunno, I’m a little hurt. I also haven’t seen any dumbphones, just smartphones. Un-Zambia-like.

Eventually we set off in earnest and I was rewarded by the sight of a full-on cowboy. Like riding on the back of a horse (I think he was the first horserider I saw) with a cowboy hat and overshirt flapping in the breeze. Magnificent. Later on one of the bus passengers had a “Wrangler” shirt (it said Wrangler), and based on his hat and boots I believe he actually wrangled so that was cool. I also saw a cow being hog-tied with a dude on a horse next to it, so this is legit cattle country. Eventually and without trouble we got to Sayache. The bus dropped us off and for lack of better ideas I took the ferry across the river to the town proper. I said I might show up at like 1000 and I actually arrived at 0900 so my plan was to find some breakfast. As I stopped off the boat however I heard a “Patrick?” and there was Don Pedro. He was ready to put me on a boat but I mentioned breakfast so he led me over to a street food kinda stand where in a bit of a daze I ordered roast chicken for breakfast. That chicken was absolutely phenomenal. I awkwardly ate (I don’t really know what to do with the tortillas) and asked for some bottles of water and I was loaded up into a boat. Don Pedro wasn’t coming but handed me off to “mi capitan.” I never got his name but he was very nice.



We were in a small metal boat with a canopy and comfortable-ish seats. The ride to the site was pretty awesome. We went fast down the river but it was still about an hour and a half of riding. I saw all sorts of stuff on the river. There were homesteads and cattle farms. There were places where they obviously loaded cattle onto barges and that I wish I could have seen, a cattle barge. At one point a pack of dogs came running when they heard the boat and I thought that was cute. We waved to all sorts of people and there was a good chunk of river traffic. It mostly seemed to be people collecting firewood; I saw more than one boat being loaded. On the way back there was a little caravan of two canoes, the front one with a motor and towing the second one, both loaded down totally and with an old dude up front and two kids steering (one on the motor and another with a paddle in the rear one). I enjoyed speeding down the river and capitan was not bashful about taking turns. It got really fun towards the end when the river narrowed. In the meantime, we went through that big lake and that was cool. It is edged with these jungle-covered hills so it really looked like you were coming up on some sort of I dunno unexplored realm. There were tons of birds all along the path too. More than once a bird launched and then we wound up chasing it down the river as it twisted and turned around the bends. There was a small blue heron thing I took care to note. I also saw muscovy ducks.


Path to Aguateca.


When you arrive at Agauteca you dock in this small lagoon at the end of a narrower and narrower river. You pull up to the riverbank and then scramble up to the entrance. They had clearly planned a much bigger site as there is a partially-completed but abandoned visitor’s center that is fairly large with signs all over the place. There were dudes that worked there but they mostly just said hi and capitan had me sign in (there were three French guys there the day before, and it looks like it gets about a person a day; I had the place to myself) and he guided me through the place. First you walk along the bottom of some tall cliffs. There were tons and tons of mosquitos so I didn’t like to stop for long. At the end of the cliffs there is a viewpoint that gives you majestic views of the river you just came down and the plains beyond. Then you circle back around and walk through a ravine. The ravine splits the site and over it is a natural bridge and an artificial bridge. Scrambling down the thing was actually sorta harrowing but I made it up and down. Capitan knew where people liked to take pictures and asked for my camera to take a picture of me at every spot. Then we scrambled back up out of the ravine and viewed the site proper. I don’t know how much is or isn’t uncovered of the place, but the temples there are rather smaller than the other ones I have seen, but it seems more intimate as you visit more of the residential palaces and things. We walked through and saw all sorts of stuff and replica stelae and some real stelae still laying where they fell. I think the whole tour was about an hour and a half and I was glad to be done with the mosquitoes. So back on the boat and another great time zooming down the river.


Not every picture he took was good.


He also insisted on this one. Why do I pose like this?


This is the only intact, man-made stone bridge known in the Mayan world.


Me & Capitan.

We arrived back at Sayache and I paid capitan and retrieved my backpack and then I went to go search for some lunch. I walked around looking for something that looked like a restaurant and found nothing. Embarrassed, I went to a fried chicken place and had some chicken and fries and then found a bus for Coban by wandering around saying “Coban.” Getting to Coban was to be a bit of an adventure. Things I saw along the way were a massive palm oil planation, so that was neat, and then the sight of us approaching the mountains, with their tops clouded in mist.



Unfortunately disaster struck. As we were stopping to pick up a guy the engine stalled. They tried to start it and tried to roll downhill to start it but eventually ran out of hill and we were out of the bus as they worked on the engine. Another bus came though and the conductor loaded us all on that and so off we were again. We got to the hills and I noted how sharp and steep they were. Like vertical limestone dunes or something. I settled in to read, but I should have paid more attention. There is a fork in the road and I wasn’t thinking or listening to the guy and some people got out but I stayed on the bus and we went to the wrong way down the fork (or at least away from Coban). I said “por Coban?” to the conductor and he said some stuff and what wound up happening is I rode to the next down and got off there. The conductor said some stuff and I was confused but eventually it turned out that he was pointing to an empty spot saying that the bus for Coban would come but it wasn’t there yet. I figured this out talking to tuk-tuk drivers and another bus driver. Eventually a bus came and I got on and we left pretty quick. The next part of the ride took a while thought I don’t know how long it normally would have taken. The windows in the van were pretty tinted, and as night fell it started to mist and this was a whole like, mood, as we went into the cloud-shrouded jungle mountains. It kinda started to rain actually too and the van didn’t have effective windshield wipers as we navigated steep turns and hills with no streetlights and I pretended not to notice. At some point the van stopped by the side of the road (it seemed to me) and we all got out. Turns out we were in Coban. I think I left Sayache at like 1400 and got to Coban at 1900 or so. I got a taxi to take me to the hotel where a flustered seeming dude checked me in. I had high hopes when I saw there was a 1030 shuttle to Antigua.