Guatemala

Sunday 7/05/09 - La Aurora Zoo, Departure

Craig and I woke up at 5 o'clock a.m. to shower and pack all of our things. Shortly after 6, we headed over to the house to find everyone up, dressed, and finishing up breakfast. Humberto gave the kids motion sickness medication, but Aracely refused to take the pill. Yasmin found a mariquita (ladybug) and gave it to us as a present, and we tried to explain that mariquitas aren't allowed on planes to the United States. She eventually put it down. Craig had some coffee but I didnít want to put anything other than Gatorade into my system before the long car ride. So far so good this morning, but I wanted to keep it that way.

We were very happy to learn that Juana, Rocio, and Humberto's mother would be joining us again as well. It felt like a going away party. The van arrived at 6:30, and we met Enoch the driver. We all got situated in the van and were on the road by 6:45. We had some gorgeous views of Lake Atitlan as we wound our way out of Panajachel. As the roads got more windy, Aracely got sick, but Paola handled it quite well and took care of her. Paulina handed a sleeping Eddy off to Juana, and held Aracely on her lap for the rest of the ride.

It was certainly a more enjoyable ride to Guatemala City when we were accompanied by everyone! Eddy was sitting right behind me on Juana's lap, and when he woke up we never even knew it because he was so quiet. He removed the ashtray from the back of my seat and held it, studying it carefully. We all laughed...he's a smart little guy with great fine motor skills! Then he started to play with the seatbelts.

As we approached Guatemala City, Paulina pointed out Volcan del Fuego in the distance, which had a plume of smoke rising from its crater. Before we knew it, we were on the outskirts of Guatamala City and we stopped at a mirador (lookout point) which ordinarily has a view of the city, but today clouds impeded the view. We got back into the car and continued to La Aurora Zoo, arriving at 9:30.

While Humberto purchased the tickets, Aracely was bouncing up and down with excitement. She could not contain herself. This outing was originally supposed to have taken place on the Tuesday that we arrived, but our late plane and rainy weather had forced a postponement. The zoo was very clean and well-maintained, and the habitats were modern and as close as possible to the natural habitat of the animals. At the entrance, there was a large amphitheater, and a place where you could pay to have a photo taken. We noticed that the zoo rents out digital cameras - what a great idea in this day and age of digital photography. Rent a camera, burn the photos to a CD, and voila! We all used the restrooms first thing and then reconvened.

We knew we only had an hour before Craig and I would have to take our leave, so I snapped photos like a madwoman as we walked around the zoo. Paola was taking photos with Humberto's camera. Eddy was wide awake and enjoyed looking at everything. The girls didn't seem to know what to do next and they hurried from one exhibit to the next. Paulina had packed them some snack mix, and they munched on it as we wandered around.

The first exhibit was an African habitat which housed zebras and giraffes. The two giraffes were inside a very tall building with a thatched roof. It was dark inside and you could only vaguely see them through the doors. Across from this exhibit was a meerkat colony surrounded by plexiglass so that you could see them from all angles. The girls happily watched them as one dug a hole while another sought higher ground in sentinel stance.

Rocio stuck by Craig and myself the entire time. I think she realized that we would be gone soon, and wanted to spend as much time with us as possible. It was very sweet. She knew I was taking pictures and would always direct my attention to the next interesting subject.

We saw two enormous hippos on the perimeter of their habitat which included a pond and lots of mud for wallowing. When we were on safari in Africa, we had only seen hippos from a great distance. It was impossible to fully fathom their scale. But from here we could appreciate just how gigantic they were, and how dangerous.

Next was an enclosure with green grass, goats, and birds such as peacocks ("traditional" as well as an entirely white albino variety), and ostriches. We moved on to an African-looking enclosure with a tribal-looking building and some termite mounds that were so enormously tall that they had to be fake. Water buffalo were milling around. Next door was an enclosure filled with boulders, grass, and "ruins" of buildings. A lioness laid lazily on a horizontal tree trunk while a male and another female laid in her shade on the grass.

Pepsi is obviously a very important sponsor for the zoo, but we thought it was a little much to have their logo on every placard describing the animals. Children probably go home from the zoo thinking that Pepsi is part of the diet of all of the animals. They take a very heavy-handed approach.

There was an Australian habitat which contained wallabies and emus, and next to that was a caged bird area containing parakeets and love birds. We got a great view of an Asian elephant and noticed just how much smaller his ears were than an African elephant's. Aracely rode on Humberto's shoulders for a while, and Juana carried Eddy.

We arrived at the brown bear enclosure and peeked through the plexiglass and couldn't see a bear anywhere. Then we looked down and realized that he was sleeping right in front of us, so close that we almost couldn't see him. We walked around the corner to have a better view.

We saw a sign for a "binturong" next to an empty enclosure. From the photo it seemed to be some kind of otter / fisher sort of thing. Next it was on to the monkeys: Japanese macaques. "Mono!" the girls cheered excitedly. Had we been on our own, Craig and I would have lingered watching the monkeys, but the girls kept up their frantic pace.

Next we saw a turtle enclosure. From our vantagepoint we could look down on the turtle pond. Two tigers cuddled in the shade in an enclosure decorated to look rather like Angkor Wat. We saw some planes taking off, and they flew right over the zoo. It was nice to know that if the family was still at the zoo when we took off, they would see our plane go by as well.

We went inside a dark building to see such things as crocodile eggs, snakes, and nocturnal animals. We had to peer through little portholes to see them. Back outside, we saw rhesus monkeys, and a gorgeous jaguar resting under a large tree. Spider monkeys were quite playful, although these are old hat for the girls, as there are resident spider monkeys in the nature preserve in Panajachel.

We also saw monitor lizards, llamas, and foxes. Somehow we had managed to get a cursory look at every exhibit in the short hour that we were there. It was now 10:30 and we realized that we had to get to the airport. Humberto gathered the family together and we all said our goodbyes. It is always difficult to say goodbye - we enjoy our time with them so much. We gave everyone hugs and kisses...and they each handled it in a unique fashion. Yoselin was clingy and seemed sad, like she didn't want to let go. Yasmin was all about denial - both Craig and I had hugged and kissed everyone except her...it was as if she thought that if she didn't acknowledge us, we wouldn't go. But we each gave her a big hug and a kiss. I asked if I could get one photo of the entire family before we left, and they all huddled together for a perfect photo. Everyone was looking at the camera (even Eddy). Sure, Paola and Yasmin look rather sad, but it was a bittersweet moment.

As Humberto walked us back to the van, we looked back at the family and wiped away a tear. We were glad that they would be able to stay at the zoo for as long as they wanted - it would help to distract them from feeling sad. As we walked to the exit, we realized how much more crowded it had gotten. We were lucky that we had been able to see every exhibit without a large crowd - especially those where you had to peek through a porthole.

We said goodbye to Humberto and then Enoch drove us around the corner to the airport. When he got our bags out of the back of the van, we noticed the ladybug from this morning had stowed a ride on our bags. We got a good chuckle out of that and thought of Yasmin as we placed him on the sidewalk. He was a long way from his home in Panajachel! Humberto would later joke that the ladybug was trying to be an illegal immigrant.

We arrived at the airport at 11:55. We checked in and paid our departure tax, and then headed upstairs to the food court. I hadnít been able to properly digest food in two days, and I was starving. The general pattern was that I would eat, and then suddenly and urgently have to go to the bathroom 30 minutes later. Since it was now shortly after noon and our flight wasnít until 1:30, I figured I had a window of opportunity before getting onto the plane. We would normally eat at Pollo Campero in the food court, but I didnít think a fried meal was likely to sit well. Instead I opted for boring old Subway. Iím not usually a fan, but I felt like having a very plain sandwich, so I ordered a toasted ham and cheese on white bread. It was just what my stomach needed at that point, and I managed to digest it normally! Thank goodness Ė it didnít seem like it would be an issue while flying. Craig got Pollo Campero with fries and an orange soda. Ordinarily I would have been jealous, but I was happy simply to have a stable stomach.

After eating we went down an escalator to a new area were they collect the departure tax. Then we went through security. As usual, there wasn't really a backup here. Then we walked through the concourse to the departure gate. They had put in many new shops which featured locally made handicrafts. Before there had only been high end duty free shops. It was a nice change. We waited at the gate until boarding time, and then went through the hand-screening process before we were allowed onto the plane.

Our flight took off on time at around 1:30. It was a pretty uneventful flight. We were seated next to a man who was sitting separately from his wife, and they were taking turns passing off their cranky infant and hyperactive toddler. The American Way magazine had a list of activities which are close to airports Ė suitable for killing long layover times. I mentioned that we knew of one in Guatemala City Ė the zoo.The guy next to me perked up and asked how it was, since he might want to take his kids there next time. We told him that we had been impressed, and that it was a fun activity to have shared with Humberto's kids.

When we landed in Miami we went through a re-organized immigration area, and it turned out that we didnít need to wait in line at all. That was a definite improvement. Of course every single time we see the sign that says ďfollow the green dots to domestic connectionsĒ When you get to the busiest part of the airport, the green dots disappear and you have to guess at where to go, and it involves an unmarked elevator. Hopefully they will do something eventually to make their directions more user-friendly.

Then, as usual in Miami, once you finally figure out where to go, you are sent through an infinite security line. Even though it is a domestic departure, and we had been hand-searched before boarding our incoming flight, we still must go through security yet again. When we finally made it through security and walked about a hundred miles to our terminal, we searched high and low for food. We walked and walked and walked looking for something to eat. The airport was hot and humid and we were losing patience quickly. We had plenty of time to kill, so we thought we might go into one of the actual sit-down restaurants for a nice meal. There were mobs of people waiting for tables. So we wandered as far down the terminal as possible, and inevitably came to the conclusion that our only real option was Nathanís Hot Dogs. The last time we had been there, we tried a Nathanís hot dog and it was disappointingly non-descript. We didnít feel like doing that again. So we opted for chicken tenders and fries. We have to admit, they tasted really good. And by now my stomach was totally back to normal. We sat down to eat our meal, three rows of chairs away from a woman who was shouting into her cell phone. The call just went on and on. By now Craig and I were very cranky. I swear, if we ever break up, the Miami airport will somehow be responsible.

But it was encouraging to see that it wasnít just us at each otherís throats. We moved away from the cell phone lady into a corner of the room that was absolutely freezing. A family with a grandfather, dad, son, and sonís friend were seated near us and they were incredibly cranky. Grandpaís walker got lost somewhere along the way and dad was not happy about it. It seemed like they had all had enough of one another as they headed home from their trip to St. Maarten. Eventually a daughter showed up with grandpaís walker in tow, saying that she wasnít even going to tell them what she went through to retrieve it. It was nice to be able to focus on this familyís dysfunction rather than dwelling on our own petty annoyances.

Our flight wasnít until 9:30. It was another uneventful flight. We landed at Logan at 12:30, and got to our house shortly after 1 oíclock, and tried to get a few hours of sleep before facing a Monday morning at work.
La Aurora Zoo, Guatemala City

La Aurora Zoo, Guatemala City


Yasmin

Yasmin


Aracely

Aracely


Yoselin with the peacocks

Yoselin with the peacocks


Humberto, Aracely, and Abuela

Humberto, Aracely, and Abuela


Juana and Eddy

Juana and Eddy


Vanesa

Vanesa


Aracely and Rocio

Aracely and Rocio


Family portrait

Family portrait


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