It's the first morning we haven't had to wake up before 5 am to go somewhere, but I'm up early anyways and sitting out on a dock on the Rio Dulce. The sun has already risen but things are still pretty hazy. Our hotel here is wonderful. There's a restaurant surrounded by a bunch of little cabins connected by elevated wooden walkways through the jungle. There's a mosquito net around the bed, so when you're lying in it it looks and sounds like you're out camping in the woods.
The first order of business is to wrap up Thursday night. I figured we would just head to bed after dinner, but a little serendipity came our way. Scott ran into one of his high school friends, David Kroodsma, who's in the middle of a really cool trip: A Ride for the Climate. He's biking from California to Argentina raising awareness about climate change. (Definitely check out his blog!) It just so happens that our hotel was also full of researchers from around the world studying how climate change may have caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization around 900 AD. They were taking core samples from Lake Peten Itza. By looking at layers of biomatter that fell into the lake and settled on the bottom, they can get an idea of what was growing around the lake hundreds (and thousands) of years ago. They found evidence of a bunch of grassy plants starting around 900, which means the climate suddenly turned drier, which may have meant more difficult living conditions. No one knows for sure, but the researchers sounded pretty excited about what they were finding and how it fit into other archeologists' studies.
So, definitely cool to meet David, and definitely cool to eavesdrop on all those climate discussions.
Friday - The Day We (Almost) Got to Be Scientists
Friday was the researchers' last day out on the drilling platform, and the previous night one of them had invited David and Scott and I to join her out there to help with the work. We were pretty psyched about this opportunity. The shift started at 6am, though, so true to form we were awake at 4:30 in order to eat and get the OK from the other scientists. It turns out the guy in charge didn´t want extra people running around getting in the way, since it was the last day and EVERYTHING had to get finished. Disappointing, but completely understandable. So we heard a little more about the study over breakfast with all of them, drank our coffee, and hit the road. A 40-minute bus to Sant Elena, and then a 4-hour pullman to Rio Dulce. Definitely enjoyed traveling through the countryside and getting to see non-tourist destinations: farms with cows and horses and chickens and fields of maize and tiny tin or thatched-roof houses. Villages with tiendas and churches. It's a very rough countryside, big hills or small mountains. Scott said someone once compared it to a crumpled piece of paper. It's neat.
Arrived in Rio Dulce around 1, hot and a little cranky after the bus ride and the early morning. But we were immediately shuttled downstream to our hotel which presents itself as a tropical paradise sort of place. We checked in, got a sandwich and a pineapple liquado (juice, ice, sugar - beautiful) and then hopped on a boat for a tour of the river. The highlight was our stop at a natural hot spring. Guatemala is situated over the meeting point of 3 tectonic plates, so there's lots of seismic activity. Our boat, which contained 2 families and 4 other 20-something backpackers, seemed pretty content to sit and observe the hot spring, but Scott and I wanted to swim. He asked if it was okay to jump in, and we both dove in. Eventually, most of the other passengers were enjoying the sulfuric-smelling springs as well.
We continued on to Livingston, a small city on the Carribbean coast, and spent an hour there. I was curious to see it, a conclave of Guatemalans of African descent. (Maybe a slave ship crashed there? I forget the exact history, sorry...) It was neat to see, as its culture is a little different from other parts of Guatemala, but I didn't need more than an hour there. It felt more tourist-y than other-culture-y.
We had a great dinner at the hotel that night. I had cerviche for the first time, and it was amazing. Scott, who's had various cerviches in the past, agreed that it was excellent. We also had penne with smoked snook (a local fish) and 3 grilled meats: lomito, churrasco, and longaniza. Tasty.
Time for breakfast and coffee!