Friday, July 9, 2010

Beyond the Strong Waves, World-Class Sport Fishing

Guatemala has gained an international reputation as having one of the highest concentrations of bill-fish, in particular Pacific Sailfish, all year round. At Puerto Quetzal, strong west-to-east currents come down from Mexico and meet with east-to-west currents from the coast of El Salvador. Together, these currents create an enormous, natural occurring eddy, rich in bait and pelagic fish making it a perfect spot to find sailfish, marlin, mahi-mahi (dorado) and many other species in tremendous numbers, and when I say tremendous, it is not an exaggeration and the best part is that the most important species are strictly protected and even the hooks are regulated.
With a year round daily catch and release rate averaging 15-20 sailfish, any fishing trip in Guatemala's Pacific Coast will become a lifetime experience. Scientists who have studied the large numbers of sailfish off the coast of Guatemala have concluded that this might be the largest breeding ground for Pacific Sailfish in the world.
Until now, Guatemala holds both the conventional and fly fishing records with most sailfish released in one day. Year after year Guatemala has consistent numbers of rises, bites and releases, all recorded and reported, backed up with testimonials from happy anglers that agree that Guatemala is certainly the Sailfish Capital of the World.
Any brief search over the Internet, in fishing magazines, cable or TV fishing shows and newspaper columns will provide figures that say pretty much the same thing: catches of over 25 sailfish per day are common, double and triple hookups are common, on average between 20 and 40 sailfish are caught and released per boat, per day and on extraordinary days, that number easily reaches the one hundred; fishing is good year round, etc. Local boat captains with conservative estimates affirm that between 1,000 and 1,400 sailfish are caught and released, per boat, per year, using conventional tackle and bait.
 Guatemala: The saltwater fly-fishing destination at its best!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Passing by Guatemala on a Cruise: Puerto Quetzal

Puerto Quetzal is Guatemala's largest Pacific Ocean port and it is important for both, cargo traffic and as a stop-off point for cruise liners. And to those passing by Guatemala on board a cruise, let me tell that sometimes our eyes limit what we see. In the case of Puerto Quetzal this might be the situation.
Standing on the railing of a cruise ship looking out over the landscape beyond the port, leaves someone with the feeling that it's time to save our money for an excursion in another port. And for the most part that's what everyone does. That is a shame because you will be missing out on "what's over the next hill". And over the next hill is an erupting volcano, a 400 year old city, beautiful architecture, scenery, gardens and ancient ruins of civilizations long gone.
All that is required to see all of this is a sense of adventure and losing that expectation that you have from your own home town. Taking that step on the gangway to move forward, to venture out, to lose oneself in another country and culture. To experience someplace other than where you live. So open the box and be surprised. You may like it.
There are several options to choose from, but to give you an idea I selected a day tour to one of my favorite places in the country, Antigua Guatemala, the colonial capital, so let me describe how it could be.
By tour bus it's an hour and a half scenic drive by coffee plantations, sugar cane fields and rising volcanoes. This charming town, located 4,500 feet above sea level, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for both its colorful Spanish Mudejar-influenced Baroque architecture and its many ruins of colonial churches. While relaxing around Antigua's popular Parque Central, visitors are afforded a view of many notable architectural landmarks as well as the spectacular natural beauty of the three major volcanoes that tower over the city's low skyline.
Just up the street from the park, a short 10 minute walk is the next place you don't want to miss, Casa Santo Domingo. Once a convent devoted to the followers of the Grand Order of Santo Domingo de Guzman, its now a beautiful hotel set among the ruins. Beautiful arches covered in flowering vines, gardens that surround fountains of cool water greet you as you move around the property. Make sure you have plenty of space on your digital camera. It's absolutely beautiful. You may even want to come back for an extended stay.
Until now, you've been walking for a bit and it's probably time for a break. Head down to the Jade factory, which is located just a few minutes walk from Casa Santo Domingo. The factory is kind of your welcome and departure center for Antigua when visiting the city from a cruise. A great staff  is ready to greet you as you get off the bus and the factory is always in full swing to watch the fine craftsmanship of all the pieces. Buses will let you off and pick you up here.
By  now you've finished your tour of Antigua Guatemala and have headed back to the ship. I hope you enjoyed yourself and experienced the beauty and culture of this part of Guatemala. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Monte Alto Culture: The Key to Understand Guatemala's Ancient History?

As we have learned in our journey, during a trip to Guatemala, the heart of Mesoamerica, visitors will discover a rich, sometimes violent, but always fascinating cultural history.
The cultural ancient history of Mesoamerica can be divided into three periods: The Pre-Classic from 2000 BC to 250 AD, (Early: 2000 BC to 800 BC, Middle: 800 to 400 BC, and Late 400 BC to 250 AD), Classic from 250 to 900 AD, (Early 250 to 550 AD, Middle from 550 to 700 AD and Late 700 to 900 AD), and Post Classic from 900 to 1500 AD, (Early 900 to 1200 AD, and Late 1200 to 1500 AD).
The first proof of human settlers in Guatemala dates at least as far back as 10,000 BC, although there is some evidence that put this date at 18,000 BC. The evidence includes obsidian arrowheads uncovered at various archeological sites.
The archaeological evidence concludes that early Guatemalan settlers were hunters and gatherers, but pollen samples from Peten and the Pacific coast indicate that corn cultivation was developed by 3,500 BC. The earliest Maya civilizations began to emerge in the highlands of Guatemala by as early as 2,000 BC.
By 2,500 BC, small settlements were developing in Guatemala’s Pacific lowlands, including such places as Tilapa, La Blanca, Ocós, El Mesak, and Ujuxte, where the oldest and beautifully designed ceramic pottery from Guatemala has been found. A heavy concentration of pottery on the Pacific coast has been documented dating from 2,000 BC.
Recent excavations suggest that the Highlands were a geographic and temporal bridge between Early Pre-classic villages of the Pacific coast and later Peten lowlands cities. There are at least 5,000 archaeological sites in Guatemala, 3,000 of them in Peten alone.
In Monte Alto near the municipality of La Democracia, Escuintla, giant stone heads and Potbellies (called Barrigones in Spanish) dating from 1800 BC, have been found. These are ascribed to the Pre-Olmec Monte Alto Culture, and some scholars suggest the Olmec Culture originated in this area of the Pacific Lowlands. However, it has also been argued that the only connection between these statues and the later Olmec heads is their size. Nonetheless, it is likely the Monte Alto Culture was the first complex culture of Mesoamerica, and predecessor of all other cultures of the region. In Guatemala, there are some sites with unmistakable Olmec style, such as Tak'alik Ab'aj, in Retalhuleu, which is the only ancient city in the Americas with both, Olmec and Mayan features.
Dr. Richard Hansen, the director of the archaeological project of El Mirador Basin in northern Peten, believes the Maya at that location developed the first true political state in America, (The Kan Kingdom), around 1,500 BC. Further, he disputes the common belief that the Olmec were the mother culture in Mesoamerica. Due to recent findings at El Mirador Basin, Hansen suggests  that the Olmec and Maya cultures developed separately, and then merged in some areas, such as Tak'alik Ab'aj on the Pacific Lowlands. There is no evidence yet to link the Pre-classic Maya from Peten and those from the Pacific coast, but Dr. Hansen believes they had cultural and economical links.
It is too bad that many questions will remain unanswered since countless pieces have been either destroyed or stolen throughout  the last centuries and there are many that, before protection laws were issued, were sent to foreign countries where they still are featured in museums.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa: Home to Ancient Civilizations

Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa is an important archaeological zone of Guatemala, located in the department of Escuintla, at the foot of the Pacific volcanic range. Judging from current evidence, this area experienced an early development going back at least to the end of the Early Pre-Classic period (800 BC). By the Late Pre-Classic period, the region was the settlement for an important kingdom. The Stela 1 from El Baul has one of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions found in Meso-America, with the earliest legible date known in the modern territory of Guatemala, going back to the year 37 AC.
The region experienced an extraordinary development during the Late Classic period, between years 500 and 1000 AC. At this time, Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa became one of the largest cities in Southern Meso-America, a major center of political power and cultural innovation.
Research has shown that the city covered approximately ten square kilometers, and included two major architectural compounds, which correspond to the sites known as El Baul and Bilbao.
Both are large platforms that sustain colossal compounds, and possess the major concentrations of monumental sculptures. A third important compound, known as El Castillo, also formed part of this urban center, and may have been the main plaza of this great city. A system of causeways and bridges joined together these three compounds with each other and with other sectors of the city.
The inhabitants of this area developed an original artistic style and a writing system of their own, which found expression in a large corpus of monumental sculptures. These include rock carvings, stone stelas, altars, gigantic heads, and three-dimensional sculptures, as well as a variety of architectural sculptures such as carved stairs, pillars and pavement stones.
There are also numerous portable sculptures. Characteristic of the Cotzumalguapa style is an extraordinary degree of realism in the representation of human figures, which in many cases may be considered as individual portraits, possibly representing kings and nobles. In many cases, these individuals appear participating in complex scenes, where they interact with other human characters or with supernatural beings. Sacrificial scenes are frequent.
Distinctive elements of the Cotzumalguapa style include speech scrolls shaped as vines with a variety of flowers and fruits. Hieroglyphic signs usually are inscribed in circular shapes, but they may also acquire complex animated forms.
Cotzumalguapa was most likely the seat of a powerful state, which exerted political control over a vast region of the Pacific coast. The diffusion of the sculptural style provides a measure of the geographic extension of Cotzumalguapa influence. The style is found along a 200 kilometer stretch of the Pacific coast, from the department of Suchitepequez to the modern border between Guatemala and El Salvador. It also had strong presence in some regions of the Central and Eastern Highlands, particularly in the region of what we know today as Antigua Guatemala. Some elements of the style are perceptible in sculptures from various sites located in Chimaltenango and along the Motagua river valley.