There are some experiences that are so extraordinary they can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime. The trip that I recently took to Guatemala with several collector friends from Canada, the US and Mexico to attend Megacon and visit Tikal (the Yavin IV shooting location) certainly ranks as one of those experiences...

Megacon was held in the small Guatemalan city of Retalhuleu (pronounced ray-tal-hway-lay-oo) on May 6, 7, 8, 2011 but my journey actually began several days earlier. Opting to take a slightly more adventurous route to get to the convention, I flew to Mexico City on May 2nd where I met my very good friend and fellow vintage collector Luis Villagomez. Luis and I then traveled by bus to his home in Queretaro, Mexico where I was able to visit with his family, check out some great Toltec ruins and once again bask in the glory of his incredible Darth Vader focus collection.

Luis and I checked out a few old toy stores, flea markets and visited another Queretaro based collector, Martin, who showed us around his immense collection that took up his entire house, often from floor to ceiling! Beyond a few bootlegs and non-Star Wars items, there weren't too many new acquisitions to be had this trip, however, Luis' friend Lidia Cano makes these really sweet traditional Mexican dolls and in advance of my arrival, he had her create a very cool Thall Joben doll for my focus collection. Each doll takes her approximately four days to make and this incredible piece is a fantastic addition to my focus. She also made an Obi-Juan Kenobi for Steve Sansweet, which was presented to him later in the trip.

After spending a few days in Queretaro, Luis and I began our journey to Guatemala on May 5th. After a three-hour bus ride to Mexico City, we caught a short domestic flight to Tapachula, Mexico, which is very close to the Mexico/Guatemala border. In Tapachula we met Marco from the Guatemalan tourism board and together we made our way to the border town of Talisman. We drove across the border, got out of the car, walked back across to immigration and within a few short minutes, our passports were stamped and we were back on the road! Marco was our guide for the entire two-hour drive we had through the Guatemalan countryside to Retalhuleu (known locally by the much shorter, and easier to spell, name of Reu).

We arrived in Reu and were taken directly to Xulik (pronounced shoo-leak), an incredible action figure museum owned by convention promoter Ricardo Alejos, and it was here that Megacon was being held. Ricardo took us on a tour of the museum (which we have covered in full over on our sister site Cool Toy Review) and even showed us the TV commercial that they had made to promote the convention!

After a couple of hours checking out everything the museum at Xulik had to offer and getting the lowdown on the impending convention, Ricardo took us to Los Hostales del IRTRA, the resort where we were staying. Here we met up with our international posse of convention guests and fellow collectors, Lorne Peterson, Steve Sansweet, Duncan and Anne Jenkins, Chris Georgoulias, Ross Cuddie and Elling and Jos Haug. After a quick group dinner it was time for bed - after all, we had a very big day ahead of us!

Megacon got underway with a press conference for the local media where the special guests, who now included Gus Lopez (who had just arrived with his wife Pam Green and Seattle area collectors Tom and Michal Stewart), answered questions and discussed their history with Star Wars. Knowing that Friday would likely be a slow convention day, we were all taken by one of the convention organizers, Jair Monsanto, to Xetulul, an amazing local theme park that easily rivaled Disneyland in terms of quality and detail. Several of us rode the Avalanche roller coaster (twice) before heading back to Xulik.

Upon returning to the convention, we found a small but enthusiastic crowd being entertained by the show MC Vittorio Sanchinelli and both Lorne Peterson and I gave our presentations to the audience. After our presentations were done we went to the second level for a meet and greet and autograph signing with those in attendance before retiring to the resort for a quick dinner.

Admittedly, I was very late arriving to the convention on Saturday. All of the excitement and lack of hydration the previous day (did I mention we rode the roller coaster twice?) left me feeling a little worse for wear and I unfortunately spent the majority of the night on the bathroom floor. Thanks to a quick Canadian cocktail of stomach meds donated by one of my traveling companions, I was soon feeling well enough to head over to the show. The crowd was a bit bigger on Saturday and the day's presentations included Steve Sansweet's favourite collectibles and mini-tour of the new Rancho Obi-Wan, my Star Wars tattoo discussion, Lorne's model making panel and Gus' presentation on Star Wars filming locations. All of the guests were then brought on stage to help celebrate Ricardo's birthday and participate in a fun round of Q&A. After the Q&A we headed back up for a meet and greet and Lorne was presented with his very own life-sized action figure cardback, which we used as our backdrop when posing for photos over the course of the next day and a half!

Sunday began with Ricardo's presentation outlining his plans for the rest of the Xulik theme park, which eventually includes a total of 17 buildings, 11 of which will be themed toy museums! After Ricardo's presentation, Gus and Duncan gave a talk on various types of Star Wars collecting as well as some of the crazy adventures they'd been on over the years while attempting to track down some of the most obscure Star Wars items from every corner of the globe. During the presentations, I met Juan Carlos Rivera who gave me a crash course on how to make an Origami Millenium Falcon!

After Gus and Duncan's talk, the guests received a bit of a surprise...we were asked to commemorate and immortalize our visit to Guatemala by placing our hands in wet cement! No one in our party ever expected to be given an honour such as this, in Guatemala or anywhere else in the world, but we all had a lot of fun with it and were glad our visit could make so many fans in Guatemala happy.

We wound down the rest of Sunday with a meet and greet and enjoying some of the other convention programming such as the costume contest (one entrant, one winner!) and the trivia contest (which is a lot harder than it looks when it's in a language you're unfamiliar with).

While Megacon was admittedly a very small convention by North American or European standards (100 total attendees, no dealers), it was likely one of the best conventions I have ever had the pleasure of attending. The passion that the fans in Guatemala have for the Star Wars Saga and the appreciation they had for the guests was unrivaled by any other group I've met at other shows. It was an absolute pleasure to have attended the event and I met so many great people. After a flurry of photos with Darth Vader and all of our new friends from Guatemala, it was time for us to say goodbye to Megacon...but the next stage of our grand Star Wars adventure was just about to begin...

Megacon Guatemala — Part Two — A Journey to Yavin IV

The second part of our Star Wars adventure in Guatemala sees our merry band of international travelers leaving Retalhuleu and flying across country to Flores where we'd set up base at El Splendido hotel before heading out to Tikal; a Mayan city/Star Wars filming location where our traveling companion Lorne Peterson helped filmed the Yavin IV scenes and played the Rebel Solider in said scenes some 34 years earlier.

Onboard our bus at 6am, we made our way to Reu's military airport for 7am where we awaited our chartered plane. Being at a Central American military airport at dawn made me feel like I was in an episode of the A-Team and despite any reports to the contrary, I can assure you that it was through no fault of my own that the rest of my cohorts had the A-Team theme song running through their heads. No, seriously. I had nothing to do with it...
Soon enough, Howlin' Mad Murdock, erm, I mean, our pilot, landed the plane on the airstrip and before we knew it, we were loaded up and in the air, flying past mountains and volcanoes high above the Guatemalan landscape below.

After landing in Flores, we quickly gathered our things, made our way to the hotel, freshened up and miraculously squeezed 19 people into our small shuttle for the hour-long drive out to Tikal. It was an incredibly hot day (about 100 degrees) in Tikal and we began our trek through the jungle to our first stop, Temple IV, which was the location where Lorne, Richard Edlund and Dick Alexander originally filmed the Yavin IV scenes.

It's hard to find the words to adequately describe the scene atop the temple. On one hand, you had THE scene from A New Hope directly in front of you. On the other, you had not only Lorne Peterson but also a group of some of the foremost collectors in the world - a group of my closest friends - there to share the experience. The word surreal hardly begins to cover it, but it's about as close as I can come to describing it all. I'd say that a thousand photos were likely taken by our group in the hour+ we spent on top of Temple IV, be them group shots, matching the scene in front of us to stills from the film, matching photos to Lorne's snapshots from '77 and so much more.

We weren't the only ones visiting Tikal that day and many other visitors to Temple IV were ecstatic to find out that Lorne had returned for a visit. Lorne signed a few autographs, posed for photos and even donned a replica of the Rebel Solider helmet and vest to help set the scene even more. If that all wasn't enough, a falcon swooped in and perched in a tree following almost the exact same trajectory as the Falcon swooped in for a landing in A New Hope. Truly, the Force was one with us all.

Time seemed to stand still atop the temple and i'm honestly not sure how long we were up there for, but I suspect it was close to two hours. It was time for us to head out and explore the rest of the site! There are thousands of ruins throughout Tikal and thankfully we were able to visit all five main temples, Lost World, Seven Temples Plaza as well as the South and North Acropolis' but I still felt like I could have used another two or three days to properly explore the site.

After a full day of trekking through the jungle, it was time for dinner. We had ordered in advance of starting our day so it was nice to come back to an already prepared meal! As we ate, the sun set low over the jungle creating the perfect setting to end an already perfect day.

When we arrived back in Flores we hit the pool to cool off and decided to check out the fair that was running a block away from our hotel. The booths were stocked with all kinds of cheesy bootleg goodness and the rides were clearly all of the classic old 70s and 80s rides that were deemed unsafe by American and Canadian standards. Of course that didn't stop Luis, Chris, Elling and myself from hopping on board the bumper cars and giving them a go!

We were up bright and early the following morning, which would be our last day together before we all departed for home. Breakfast proved to be a real treat as Luis Lopez, our guide from the previous day in Tikal, had located two of the original guides who joined Lorne and the ILM team on the Yavin IV shoot some thirty-four years previous! We had copies of Lorne's photos on my computer and were able to place both Jose Lopez and Oscar Cano in Lorne's pictures! Amazing! Unfortunately, we had to rush the reunion as our flight was waiting to take us all back to Guatemala City!

When we landed, many of our friends from the convention had gathered to meet us at the airport. There we also met the Politronix crew who had made an incredible fan film in Guatemala, which was screened for us in the airport lounge. We left the airport in the style to which we'd become accustom — 15 in a shuttle — and were taken out to the colonial town of Antigua where we toured and dined at the Casa Santo Domingo, a former monastery turned 5+ star hotel and resort.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and the end of our meal signaled the beginning of the end of our trip. We left Ross, Elling and Jos, Duncan and Ann, and Chris at the resort where they planned to stay a few more days and Luis, Steve, Gus, Pam, Tom, Michal and I all headed back to the airport in Guatemala City to drop everyone but Luis and myself off.

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone but Luis and I still had more traveling ahead of us! We went back to Reu with Ricardo, got up early the next morning for him to drive us to Tapachula, crossed the border back into Mexico and caught our flight to Mexico City. I spent one more night there before being up crazy early to begin my journey home to Edmonton.

Truly, this trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience. Because of how monumental it was, I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who made this trip what it was: my international companions Luis Villagomez, Ross Cuddie, Elling and Jos Haug, Chris Georgoulias, Gus Lopez, Pam Green, Duncan and Ann Jenkins, Tom and Michal Stewart, Steve Sansweet, and Lorne Peterson.

Extra special thanks to the convention crew and the Guatemalan fans and organizers: Jair and Marisa, Vittorio and Chari, Jorge,Mari and Ian, Horacio and Jose, Bobby and Vivienne, Pedro and Alma, Al and Frida, Marco, Douglas, Eddie, Juan Carlos, las tres chicas Villatoro; Gheidy, Aracely and Rosita and lastly, and most especially, to Ricardo Alejos who did a phenomenal job in coordinating the entire event and making it so memorable for all of us who were along for the ride.

Photos by Shane Turgeon. Additional photos by Elling Haug and Tom Stewart.