Lisi and I left Xela about two weeks ago and have been traveling around Guatemala:
A strange little town in the mountains. We got there and it felt like we were at the end of the world. Even the vegetation was different, lots of agave and lotsa of deforestation. In many places in Guatemala, a lot of women still wear corte, the traditional indigenous dress, but in Todo Santos, the men wear traje as well, something seldom seen in more modern towns. The traje of this town consisted of red striped pants, made out of thick material and in the style of jeans, and white striped shirts with embroidered collars and some other decorations. Also, all men carried brightly colored bags.
After leaving Todos Santos, we had to change buses in Huehuestanango. Usually, this is an easy process. You just go to the bus station and tell someone where you want to go and they take you to the right bus. This time, we went and were immediately surrounded by about eight men all yelling at us to get on their bus and that everyone else was crazy and lying. I was yelling with everyone and we didn´t know who to believe. Finally someone grabbed our bags and put them in their bus and since it was a nice bus, we went along with it and got in. We were trying to take the scenic route, Uspantán to Cobán, but found out once we were on board that we would have to change buses at least twice to do this. So instead, we went to Guatemala City.
I was a little nervous to be going to the big scary capital city, but luckily we have a friend who´d been there and loved it. He gave us the name of a good hostel and we found it without any problems. The first night, we stayed in the bar next door to the hostel, drinking beer and hanging out. The next day, we ventured into the city itself.
The central park of Guate is HUGE! We walked around and looked at the Cathedral, the National Palace, and some shops until we found a yummy vegetarian buffet. It felt really healthy after our beer binge. Then we went to the market, which we thought would be full of food and useful stuff for the local people but instead was filled with touristy crap. The ironic part is that there are very few tourists in the capital because everyone is scared of it. We literally saw less than five other tourists in the four days we spent in the city. Everyone stared at us walking down the street because Lisi is blond and they never see blonds in real life. Very strange for a city of other 2 million people.
Saturday night, we started out in our neighboring bar once again because the waitresses told us there would be a live band. It was a bunch of 20 year old kids who had a steady gig there every Saturday night. We talked with the bassist and the guitarist between sets and afterwards the bassist, J, invited us to go to Cuarto Puntos Norte, a street with 20+ bars and restaurants that we´d wanted to visit but were nervous to go by ourselves. His dad was at the bar to watch the band and offered to give us a ride.
We got there a bit late, 11:45ish, and the bars closed at 1:30. Luckily, J saw that one of his friends was playing in a band and we had a drink and waited for them to finish. His friend´s name is Bayron and he came along with us to check out the rest of the street. We heard someone covering a Maná song (this band has gotten me through so many long bus rides) and had to stop and listen. After the band quit playing and we ran out of beers, we got kicked out of the bar and went in search of the after party. We found one that was open until 5am in another section of clubs and had some more drinks and danced for hours. J was a good dancer (although he didn´t actually dance salsa, but something of his own concoction) and I had a great time. He reminded me a lot of my baby brother and it´s always funny hanging out with young guys.
Finally, we fell into bed at 6am and slept on and off for the rest of the day, just getting up to eat and check out what we´d been told was a free collaborative concert between France and Guatemala in the Central Park. We walked over there both times and it was always a crappy Guatemalteco band playing typical music with boring dancing.
Finally, we left Guate and got on the bus to...
A super cute little town with nice weather and lotsa shops. That´s the one thing that was really strange about Xela, it was the one place I´ve been in my travels where there aren´t little stores every fifteen feet selling everything you could want. We checked into the hotel and walked around a bit. Had a quiet night and left in the morning on a shuttle bus for Lanquin.
Lanquin and Semuc-Champe
In Lanquin, a tiny town in the middle of the jungle, we stayed in a place with thatched roof bungalows and hammocks on the porch. The first day we were there, we did a tour through a cave full of bats. Our tour guide, Marco, was just a baby, 15 years old, though he´d been giving tours for a year and a half to pay for his schooling. The cave itself was pretty good, oddly really hot and muddy, but that´s because the river ran underneath it. At dusk, we waited at the mouth of the cave for the bats to fly out. It was so dark that you could just hear them flying around you, unable to see anything without a flashlight or camera flash. We took a lot of photos and were amazed by the amount of bats. Thousands! I´ll probably post pictures from Buenos Aires, unless I find time before that.
The next day, we rode standing up in the back of a pickup for 9K (which took about 30 min.) on a pretty good dirty road through the jungle. It was amazingly beautiful! Once we arrived in Semuc-Champe, we immediately stored our stuff, stripped down to our swimsuits, borrowed some old wet sneakers, and walked up to a cave. We each received a candle and stepped into the waist-high, brown water. Once we entered the cave, we walked through the water for awhile, until we reached a point where we had to swim. With the candle held above our heads as much as possible. It was kinda eerie, not being able to see anything or touch the bottom. Fortunately, I kept my candle lit and fairly quickly reached a point where I could stand up. The rest of the spelunking involved: climbing up ladders, jumping off small cliffs, going under waterfalls and being pushed downstream by their force, and lotsa wading and swimming through the darkness. It was fantastic and I was so glad to be in Guatemala where this kind of "dangerous" activity is still possible.
After the cave, we all got intertubes and jumped off a 30 foot bridge into the river, then floated downstream for about a half hour. It was lovely and made me miss summer in Seattle. I hope you all get to go tubing soon--I have a couple tubes on my patio if anyone wants to borrow them! =)
We had lunch and then went for a big hike through the jungle. It was all uphill at first, to a lookout over the jungle and some smalls lakes we would be visiting shortly. Two of the girls on our tour fell behind and we asked the guide to wait for them, which he did until one of them came out, but he left the other one behind somewhere. The path was really clearly marked and it´d be hard to get lost, but it still seemed strange to just leave someone behind. (She did eventually catch up, but I was a little worried.)
From the top we walked down to the place we had just been looking at. First, we visited the place where the river suddenly disappears underground. Over the top of the underground river was a series of lakes, deep blue-green in color with a lot of strange orange rock formations throughout them. They were the most perfect and refreshing temperature for swimming. We splashed around for awhile and took some photos. Then it was down the trail again to see the place where the river came back outside. We had to climb down a ladder through a small waterfall and then enter a ledge of the cave. It was very wet but not too slippery and I liked seeing the water rush out.
Then back to the pickup for a ride back to Lanquin. I had forgotten my shorts in the office near the cave and our guide had to run back out and get them for me. It was kinda strange to spend a whole day in water or hiking around the jungle in my swimsuit, but the worst part was riding in the truck with no clothes on. Everyone along the road stared at me and I had to explain to the traditionally dressed Mayan women on the truck with us that I forgot my pants, which is something that would never happen to them.
We left the next day on a shuttle to Río Dulce, via Cobán. This is where my famous "bus luck" ran out. During my travels, I had never had to wait more than about 15 minutes to catch a bus to wherever I was going. But this time, our shuttle had a flat tire and had to stop in Cobán for an hour to fix it. Then, a couple hours later, we got dropped off on the side of the road in a shitty little town called El Rancho to wait for our connection. I blame the flat tire and not my luck for the fact that we had to wait an hour on the side of the road in the garbage and exhaust surrounded by people trying to sell us stuff and make us get on their buses that were not going where we wanted to go. I heard the comment "you can´t make them get on your bus, they speak Spanish" more times than I´d like. It´s only recently that people keep trying to make us get on the wrong buses, usually, they´re really friendly and helpful.
Finally a (really crappy with itchy seats and a crazy driver) bus came and we got on happy to be leaving El Rancho. The bus ride sucked but we finally got to Río Dulce after ten hours of traveling.
(To Be Continued...)