Well. After our language classes finished in Xela last week we went on to Fuentes Georginas, which are lovely and very hot volcanic pools where we stayed the night. The ride is through the Mayan village of Zunil, nestled in a valley between old volcanoes, including Santa Maria. Along the drive there are so many little fields packed out with cabbages, onions, and other such delectable treats. On the ride up we saw lots of these greens, and the next day on the way out was market day, and so many folks were out in the fields Way up in the mountains harvesting. While I was hanging out the shuttle window photographing en route, the smell of onions was delightful.

From Xela we decided to go straight away on to Antigua, but there was a stop in Pana on the lake where we were staying for several hours of which we were uninformed. It was OK, we had capuccinos and eventually got to Antigua some time after dark. Ended up in a little hotel with a tiny kitchen (really just a sort of closet with a little fridge and a camp stove the staff used most of the time).

After a day collecting ourselves from the long ride (6 hours in total, without counting the stops), washing clothes, etc, we headed on toward Coban, another 7 hours north. The shuttle there was OK, but from Coban to Lanquin for the last 2 and a half hours seemed a little packed (o, little did we know how much space there really was... until today). Arriving in the small town of Lanquin, we stayed at El Retiro after going through a desert part of Guatemala (it's still the dry season in the south and west), and then into a lush, more tropical part of the country than we'd yet experienced. We came to these parts for two reasons: one, the Lanquin bat caves, and two, Semuc Champey. I'll be able to get photos up sometime after Wednesday, when we return to the states, but they're both fantastic! About 2km from our hotel (really a sort of gringolandia of young people listening to Abba along a private section of the Rio Cahabon), we took a guided walk through the extremely humid and large bat caves. They're actually mostly unexplored, but there's about a km of lights and slick paths through the first parts. I visited the Mariana caverns in FL, and I have to say that these were just about ugly after having that experience. The stalagmites in the tour part of the cave have all been touched way too much, and they're all turned a rather black color, but they are still very impressive, and some are SO BIG. There's a part where people have chipped off a whole lot of this quartzite section. We even came to an area covered in black from candles used during Mayan rituals in the cave, including chicken sacrifice! Around about 6 or so, when it was starting to get pretty dark, we sat in the opening of the caves and the bats started to pour out. I definitely felt two go right by my head, but it was cool to watch them get only a little close to something and then shoot in the other direction. I wonder what all the camera flashes do to them, but now I can share the experience! :/

The next morning we got in the back of a pick-up outfitted with a sort of metal cage designed specifically for folks to stand up and hold on to (you see them everywhere in Guate), and we headed to Las Marias, our hotel about a km from Semuc Champey. The ride is really bumpy and about 8km, but it was worth it for the lovely view of the hills planted up in corn (it's a weird feeling to feel good about seeing corn after so much frustration with the IL corn desert). The hotel was pretty lame, and we got about a million bug bites, BUT, it was worth it to walk to Semuc after the tour groups had pushed off and get the place more or less to ourselves. It's hard to explain, but Semuc is part of the Rio Cahabon where the rio goes underground in a violent rush (four people have died there, and someone told us one of the bodies didn't come out the other side for fifteen days, and all the bodies are missing limbs when they come out). Above the cave where the rio goes under have formed these beautiful turqoise pools, some warm, and all lined with plants and flowers. I picked up all kinds of pretty tumbled rocks, some very smooth and all quite lovely. There's a 1 1/2 km trail to a mirador where you can see the whole of Semuc from above, it's pretty strenuous, but absolutely lovely at the top. There was a tiny orchid with two blooms just on the tree next to us, and there were more epiphytes than you can shake a stick at (plants that grow on the trees without soil, collecting water from the air). Toward the end of the trek down we saw... TWO MONKEYS!! Yes, it's true. They were jumping around in the trees, and it was very special. :)

Next day we decided to break up our long trip back to the lake by stopping at the Biotopo del Quetzal about 3 and 1/2 hours south of Lanquin. We stayed at a little hospedaje about 200 meters from the entrance called Los Ranchitos, and within an hour we heard a little knock on the door. It was the little girl who is the daughter of the cook, and she said, "Quetzal!! Muy bonita!" So that is when we saw TWO QUETZALS!! They were beautiful, but maybe they were female because they didn't have the long tail feathers. They were sparkly green with red on their fronts, and when they flew from limb to limb (in between sitting EXTREMELY still for relatively long periods of time while Mike whistled songs to them) their black and white tail feathers spread out like a fan. So pretty... The next morning we trekked for about 3 and 1/2 hours through the Biotopo (no quetzals) and saw lots of little waterfalls and one rather big one that was very lovely, indeed. There was a 450 year old tree that was Big, old as the Spanish conquest of the area. We saw one bird that had a red and yellow stripe on its head and hopped around, and something that looked a lot like a chicken, but it was all black and had a bright red waddle like a turkey. Mike whistled songs to these birds, too, and some of them whistled back. :)

The last part of my story is today, after we (by which I mean I, Mike laid in bed awake for several hours, he claims) slept in until 8:44, and after we ate a delicioso desayuno de el tipico huevos revueltos, aguacate, queso, frijoles, platanos, naranjas, pan (no tortillas esta manana, no se por que) y cafe, we went out to wait for our bus coming from Coban. On the way from Lanquin to Coban before we got to the Biotopo, we decided we'd spent too much on shuttles and chose to take public transit a little more, so we hopped a minibus (just like a shuttle, a little sort of minivan, but they shove about 15 people in it) and got into Coban with the rain and cold (rain!!). From Coban to the Biotopo we'd taken a bus that I swear, much like the chicken buses are old school buses fitted with racks and longer seats, they are old greyhound buses, and they (just like the chicken buses) still have signs in english like don't come past this line or don't push the window or whatever. The difference between this bus and the newer greyhounds is that these only have two seats per side, very comfortable plush seats, there isn't a cage around the driver's seat, the windows open, it costs 10Q (about $1.25) to go an hour away, they leave on time, they have a computerized seat assignment program (fuck Greyhound...), and they smell a little like corn chips when the bus is stopped.

So, when we were waiting for this bus to come to catch it back to Guatemala City, a little minibus showed up and threw open its door for us to get inside. So... I thought it would be cheaper than the bus (it was the same price, maybe a little more). They didn't have a rack like almost every other minibus on the top of the van, so we had to shove Mike's giant bag onto some poor guy's lap, and I had to climb in the front seat between the driver and the guy who takes the money with my smaller backpack and my big basket stacked in my lap. It was OK at first, but eventually the driver pulled his drink holder onto my lap, fumbled with the stereo and at some point the air conditioner for a while against my knees, and started seriously shifting into my leg. It was OK, like I say, until they loaded a cute girl in between me and the money guy in the front seat. There was no room to scoot more, so instead I ended up pulling my legs in as far as I could and pretending I was in ninja training to deal with pain and situations one can do little about. The shifting continued, and once we were in Guate, we were lost and I was grateful to move my feet again. After asking lots of people which way to the Antigua buses and getting pointed in the wrong direction over and over again with complete seriousness, we grabbed one of the ubiquitous taxis and paid 30Q ($4) to get to the chicken bus of our dreams... the one going to Antigua! We paid Q16 (about $2) to get to Antigua, and it was thrilling, those drivers don't take shit, and they don't slow down. The sign above the looney toon stickered rear view mirror said, "Your Children's safety is our first concern." :D

So here we are, and I highly recommend the Yellow House hotel. We got a room with lots of windows on the roof surrounded by tables and chairs on the terraza, and we even got to watch a movie on the TV! A much needed respite, this place, close to the market, breakfast included, kitchen access, and only 130Q for two. Plus, as with most hotels, you can book cheap shuttles from here, and I can do my laundry right down the road for a discount. It's sweet, and the showers are solar powered. You can't beat the price... or I'll kick your ass. :D!

Four more Guatemalan nights to go, then back to the good old US of regulation/great depression/extremely expensive shitty foot. Weird, but I miss it. It sure takes leaving the country to feel that.

with LOVE!!

No comments: