Thursday, January 18, 2007


ahhh, lívingston, sweet lívingston! how can i describe this lovely little town? it was like being in jamaica, not that i’ve ever been to jamaica or anything. but it felt like that’s where we were. the culture in lívingston is caribbean, which is way different from the rest of guatemala. the music was reggae, not cumbia. the dress code was flip-flops, shorts and dreads, not cowboy hats, machetes and frilly aprons. the plato tipico was shrimp, fish, ceviche, rice and red beans, not pollo dorado and carne asada. it was bread, not tortillas. it was just so much more laid back than the non-caribbean cultures in which we are used to living here in el salvador.

it made me miss the states a little bit because there was a way higher black population. there are virtually no black people in el salvador, which is primarily a result of its lack of a caribbean coast. lívingston is one of the only towns on guatemala’s tiny caribbean coast, so they have a very high garífuna population. here’s a little bit about the garífuna community.....

the garífuna originally lived on the caribbean island of st. vincent. in 1635 they were being brought from africa (nigeria) by spanish colonialists and the boats crashed and were stranded on st. vincent. the africans took refuge on the island and eventually became mixed with the carib indians who had come to st. vincent from south america earlier. they were all now known as the black caribs by the english. anyway, st. vincent was under british control, even though it actually belonged to the black caribs and they were able to keep it from being fully controlled by the british until 1796. when the british took full control, they decided they couldn’t allow a free black society because of the slave-owning european settlers to the island. so they hunted the black caribs down and shipped them to the bay islands in honduras and abandoned them. they were brought to mainland honduras by the spanish comandante in trujillo were they worked as fisherman and soldiers, as well as smugglers (because they knew the land better than the government officials). anyway, small groups of these black caribs, now known as the garífuna, moved up the caribbean coast and so there are now communities in belize and guatemala, as well as honduras.

so, as you can see, instead of having the mixed hispanic and indigenous indian culture that most of central america is made up of, the garífuna are a lot different because of their african culture, mixed with the indigenous indian culture. i noticed lots of similarities to african-american culture in the states – they definitely weren’t the same – but there were a lot of similarities. however, they speak their own language – which was just so cool to listen to. some women and girls wore a skirt that looked somewhat similar to the mayan indigenous skirts. but these were different in that the length of the skirt was higher (just below the knee) and the pattern was the same on every one i saw. anyway, things were so much more lively and colorful and open in lívingston, as opposed to the typical latin american culture which is so much more reserved. things just felt a lot more relaxing in lívingston and i was just really happy to be there.

we found a cheap hotel on the main drag, which turned out to be the oldest hotel in lívingston. we were having trouble getting our bearings though....after a week on the boat, everything that was supposed to be still was moving up and down and up and down and up and down. it was so weird! we hung out on the balcony of the hotel and watched people pass by, and pass by again, and again, and again. lívingston’s not that big, and we were on the main street, so we inevitably saw the same people three, four and five times. then, we were sitting there and heard this guy on a megaphone speaking english and saying things like “let’s stay together now, let’s make sure nobody wanders off.” courtney and i looked down the street and this huge group of people was heading our way, lead by the guy with the megaphone. i wish you could have seen this group of people! they were THE definition of tourists....big cameras hanging around their necks, sun visors, shorts and fanny packs. they literally walked down the main drag and turned around and came back and the guy with the megaphone was saying “so this is lívingston, as you can see.” and then they were off again! i swear, they were only their for 15 minutes. i think they came in on a boat from puerto barrios where there’s some kind of resort. but you know, i’m not gonna criticize, because if that’s how they want to see places, then they totally have the right to do that. and so that’s that, right?

a view of the street in lívingston leading down to the water

anyway, later that night, after courtney felt better, we walked around town a little bit. lívingston happened to be having their fiestas that week, so there was a lot of energy down there on the main street. we sat outside at this restaurant and just watched the liveliness of everything until it started to rain..........again. we crashed early that night, just being tired from the end of the sailing trip and everything. the next morning we kind of just chilled for a bit before deciding to walk to las siete altares, a group of waterfalls, 5 km up the beach from town. i don’t think it is recommended that people walk to siete altares because of past occurrences of robberies and that kind of thing, but i guess we weren’t really thinking about it when we started down the beach that afternoon. it looked harmless....the sun was blazing, the water was beautiful and the walk didn’t look to frightening. we started off and the path weaved through the beach houses of the garífuna neighborhoods. kids were out playing, fisherman were either out in the water or taking their boats out into the bay and there was the occasional man or woman just sitting out on their porch, watching the day pass by. we followed the beach for some time and after a while, the neighborhoods ended and the houses became few and far between. it was odd in a way, because there would be a couple of really nice houses, and then a few houses that were more run down. then there’d be nothing but jungle for a while. and then came the bridges....ahhh, the bridges. because it was a beach trail, there’d be times where we’d come upon a little tributary from land that lead into the bay. some of them you could just hop over, others were bigger and you had to cross whatever kind of bridge was in place. some bridges were nice, wooden, sturdy structures. others, were less reliable logs and bamboo sticks.

if you look closely, you can see there´s a statue out in the middle of the water. i have no idea why it´s out there, but it was kind of cool.

the trail leading through the garífuna neighborhoods

one of the various discotecas that we passed on the trail near the beach

fishermen doin´ their thing

we got halfway through this walking trip and we got to this area that had some really nice houses and a couple of restaurants. it looked like it was a small area that had been built up for upscale tourism. the path followed right in front of these establishments and then before we knew it, we were past it and back to the normal trail. then we came upon this beach house and there was this older guy sitting out front on the porch. we said “buenas tardes” and he greeted us with “hola!” then he started talking to us, but in german. he kept saying that the place was “wunderbar” (wonderful) and then kept saying other things in german that we couldn’t understand. then he’d say a couple of words in english and then he’d go back to saying the place was wunderbar and bueno. this guy was hilarious. he looked like he just gave up the routine life back in germany, sold all his stuff, and shacked up there on the beach in guatemala. he also came across as a guy who’d done a lot of drugs back in the day, and now kept up his daily marijuana habit and was permanently “stoked” with everything in his life. he was livin’ his dream. after several attempts at bidding him farewell, we finally managed to make our exit. it was just so odd and random to meet him and he totally cracked us up.

then, after a while, we met up with this guatemalan named francisco. he was really nice and talked to us for a while. he told us all about the catholic missionary that was living in lívingston for a while who he had had the hots for. hee hee. we asked him some more questions about the trail and how long we had to go and he pointed to this rock sticking out from the coast further ahead and said that was where the turnoff for siete altares was. then he implied that we were walking too slow for him, so he was going to continue on ahead of us at a faster rate. we were like – ok, adios! so he sped off and we continued to just walk along, taking pictures and talking about the things we were seeing. later, we came up on francisco again. he was talking to a guy who was working at one of the houses on the beach and they were having a conversation, so we passed and said “adios” again to him. then he came up on us again and laughed because he caught up, but i told him that it didn’t matter that we walked slow because he was gonna get to his destination at the same time as us because he stopped and talked to everyone on the way! courtney later said that she thought he was purposely stopping and taking his time because he wanted to make sure that we got to the turnoff for siete altares alright. i think she was right about that, because he walked with us almost all the way to the turnoff. we really liked francisco, he was a really nice guy and it was kind of sad to see him take the trail that lead to his house and away from the path we were on.

anyway, we finally made it to the turnoff and followed the trail up away from the beach and along this muddy path. we crossed a couple more bridges and then found ourselves at the entrance of las siete altares. there, at the entrance, were a couple of small thatched-covered buildings where we met a really cool garífuna named hector balthazar. he was the guy that was in charge of maintaining siete altares and keeping track of who visited, and also giving out educational information about the garífuna in the lívingston area. he was so funny....he kept calling us “sisters” (well, in he’d say “está bien hermanas!”) anyway, so he took our entrance fee and we started walking down the trail to the waterfalls. it was so beautiful inside the forest. the trail went down onto the actual falls and you had to criss-cross your way up and over each one of them. we were wearing flip-flops and finally, just ended up taking them off because it was easier to balance with our bare feet. after a while, though, it got really hard to walk on the rocks under the water because they were really rough and unbalanced. it was a delicate task walking over all those rocks, and even painful at times. but it was so spectacular....just the cool, clear water and the beautiful rainforest all around us. there weren’t a lot of people there, so we basically had the falls to ourselves. finally, we came upon the tallest falls, which weren’t that tall, but still it was roaring down into the pool below. we didn’t have swimsuits or anything, because we weren’t thinking about going swimming or anything. but when we got to the falls we decided that we might as well just go ahead and jump in. so courtney went first, climbing up the rocks on the side and onto the top of the falls where the water was rushing down. i had my camera ready and she took the plunge, coming up unscathed. so then it was my turn and i crawled up to the top and felt a bit nervous about jumping. but i eventually did it and when i hit the water and sunk towards the bottom, my right hand scraped against a rock. i came up and was freaked out because if i had jumped just a little bit to the right, i know i would have collided with that rock. maybe it was just the way i jumped, like i went straight in instead of cannonballing it, so maybe i went deeper than normal people do or something. it was kind of weird. but the water was cool and refreshing and it was worth it to make the hike up there and see the place.

view overlooking some of the waterfalls that gently cascaded down the river

view of the highest waterfall

courtney at the top and ready to jump!

me, showing a little more hesitation.....

we had to turn around and leave pretty much right away though because it was 2:30 and it took us near two hours to get to siete altares. if we wanted to make it back before dark, we were gonna have to start making the trek back right then. so we tried to wring our clothes out the best we could and then made the descent back to the entrance. we talked with hector a bit and then bid him farewell and got back on the trail. even though we were trying to pick up the pace on the way back, it was impossible because it was just so beautiful. the water seemed to have changed colors in the time that we were at siete altares and its reflection was just picturesque. we passed the german guy again, only this time he was in the water and when he saw us coming down the trail, he emerged from the water wearing only this little speedo. he just kept grinning and saying “wunderbar!” i was dying laughing and we just said “hola” and moved on this time. we finally made it back to lívingston right before the sun went down and i realized just how tired my legs were when we finally sat down on the balcony of our hotel. i really wasn’t expecting it to be an all day hike or anything, and even though that’s what it turned out to be, i was really glad we went. we really got a feel for how life is in lívingston, apart from the touristy parts in town. we got to see all the fishermen and the houses and the people that live right there on the beach. it was much better than taking a boat, which we found out is what most tourists do. i didn’t feel like the walk was dangerous at all. we got to see everything up close, got to meet francisco and that crazy german guy, and see all the little things that being in a boat wouldn’t have allowed for.

courtney crossing one of the many bridges on our way back to lívingston

later that night i was really wanting some fried shrimp, so we ended up at this restaurant down by the pier that had just what i was looking for. it was kind of sad knowing it was our last night in lívingston. a couple of guatemalan guys came over to our table and bought us many beers and it was pretty late before we finally left. i slept great that night – i was just so tired from the hike and then the many beers were like a bunch of sleeping pills. we awoke pretty early the next morning to get on the first boat to puerto barrios, a town across the mouth of the bay. that trip was a lot quicker than i had expected and it was really pretty. the sun was behind the clouds, casting this awesome light on the water. after we docked in puerto barrios, we walked through town, found the bus terminal and were out of there in less than an hour. in four or five hours, we were gonna be in copán, honduras. at least we THOUGHT we’d be there in four or five hours.......

i wanted this to be my christmas card to everyone, but i didn´t get to it. the waiter gave us this crazy basket when he gave us our change at the restaurant.

the beautiful view crossing the bay from lívingston to puerto barrios