Thursday, 21 June 2012

Guatemala: Careful or Carefree?

I caught a bug. It's making me restless. It's highly contagious, I'm told, and I hope I don't infect too many helpless victims..
The travelling bug. I was already called Gypsy for good reason. Now, it's worse. Now, I'm infected for life.
Guatemala. We entered it cautious, wary. Up to five years ago, our school used to have their studytrip to Guatemala. Then, the most horrendous thing happened: one of the students got into a chicken bus. And the chicken bus was robbed. And everybody was shot. Dead.
They changed the studytrip destination to Cuba, and warned all students to avoid Guatemala on the travelling-after-Cuba route.

Up till now I'm still alive.
More surprisingly, up till now Guatemala is my favourite.

The place is beautiful.. the nature is lovely. They have pineapple plants! They have breathtaking views. They have roads that never seem to end. And are bumpy as hell.
We slept in Flores first, a tiny island connected to the main land by a bridge. A pretty little place that throbbed safety in the air.

Tikal was our first tour. And it was EPIC.
It was so beautiful. We had seen ruins before. But we hadn't yet seen ruins in the middle of a Jungle. We hadn't climbed any temples yet. We did now. They were huge. High, tiring steps.
Our guide was awesome. He made jokes, knew a lot (he was a professional bird watcher), his English accent was cool (a mix between Australian, Canadian, American and Guatemalan). He took care of the group. He got along with everybody, but gave everyone their personal attention.

We climbed the highest ceremonial Mayan temple there: 70 meters high, roughly. We had the most amazing panoramic view. All over the jungle, with tips of other temples protuding. Pretty worthwhile. The air was thinner though, and every step was harder. We saw so many temples to climb, by the time we arrived at el Mundo Perdido, or the Lost World, we were exhausted. We saw a lot of different butterflies. We heard and saw howler monkeys, as well as spider monkeys. We saw a lot of different colourful birds, amongst which the most pretty was a tucan, nicknamed "flying banana" for its yellow beak. There were foxes, raccoons, wild cats, etc. There were trees: the Chiclet gum tree, the Baobab, the Rubber tree..

 Back in Flores we had the best lunch we had had in the longest while: a brilliant smoothie (for me, raspberry and strawberry in apple juice and frozen yoghurt), and pancheese: bread with molten cheese, pumpkin, pepper, onions, etc. Not because I'm sharing everything I eat, but because this was worth it. Pfew.

 Next on the list was Lanquin, and we stayed at Semuc Champey. A hostel which had no wifi, a generator for the electricity so they had to shut it down every evening for the entire night, and which had flying ants everywhere. In the middle of the jungle, so basically, in the middle of nowhere. No shops. Then again, it only costs 2.5€ a night (25 Quetzals), so we couldn't really complain. The beds where fine, the restaurant of the hostel had good food we could buy, and we were a fifteen minute walk for our next day: a tour.

 We started out the tour with a hike. A bloody strenous one hour hike, half an hour up hill, half an hour down, to the "mirador", or lookout. Walking up I did quickly, and my knees thanked me for it. Any slower would have just been horrible. But, I was hell of sweaty at the top, and people were wondering if I'd already been in the water. The panoramic view on top was worth every drop of sweat. Next, when we got down, we went swimming in those pools we had seen from up top. And to be quite honest, everybody was welcoming the water at that point.

We literally dove in, and then understood the word "activities" our guide had been rambling on about. We used waterfalls and rocks as slides, water to break our fall or help it, and it was just crazy.

 Next, after lunch, was the caves. Now, we had not taken a liking to our guide, who nearly let a member in our group drown cause he was too busy being popular. But with the caves, we got a new guide, temporarily. And funnily enough, he recognized me from the hostel. So I scored points. The cave was cool. Long cold swims, holding a candle as the only source of light whilst you're doggy swimming from point to point, trying to avoid the worst bits of rocks that jut out sharply. a high waterfall, with a ladder on the side, which everybody picked but me. So I had to climb the waterfall with just a rope. Damn. That was heavy. Then, there was a cliff. In the cave. Around 3 meters high. Which, if you wanted to jump off, meant that you had to jump exactly in one place, everywhere around it was too shallow. So no pressure.

 After the caves we went tubing, which is like riding the river, or floating on the stream, in the rubber tire of a car. So relaxing, yet so tiring if you veer off course. And so cold. The river. I had started the day feeling okay, grew from cautious to courageous. And then I hit downright reckless. As I came back from the tubing and made my way towards the hostel, there were a lot of people on a 10 meter high bridge. Apparently it was a "must" to jump it. Everybody asked me if I would. So I had only response available at that point: why the hell not?
 I did it. As I was standing on the ledge I couldn't help thinking "Why am I doing this?". As I jumped, I remembered. It's exhilerating. The adrenaline and kick are undescribeable. No broken back or neck. Just two nosefuls of water. Painful, but worth it.

 The riskiest thing we did all day, however, had nothing to do with caves, water or heights. We spent the evening at the hostel near Semuc Champey, falsely assured it was a quick way back to our hostel. We wanted the wifi and the company (Sarah whom we'd met in Tulum, Mexico, was there). But when we finally had eaten our food it was pitch black dark out. And there are no lanterns in the mountains and jungle of Guatemala. But we did it anyway. We walked. We were scared and jumpy, pocket knife at the ready and waving the one flashlight we had in all directions. When we arrived safely we could laugh again, calling it another adventure on the list, though not one either of us was keen on repeating.


 Antigua was next on the list. I'd been hearing both good and bad, so was going there with a curiousity of a ten year old. According to me, the town was fine. It had a nice atmosphere, the weather was good, cool but not cold. The streets all looked the same to me, so I tended to follow my group rather than be bothered by trying to recognize it. The roommates were awesome: Sarah we had already met in Tulum, bumped into in the shuttle from Flores to Semuc Champey, and again on our way to Antigua. So we quickly decided to go looking for a hostel together. We also met some Canadians whom were staying a long while in Guatemala for their study. One of them, Ally, preferred to join us rather than hang out with her classmates. A compliment, if you ask me. Then there was Josh, a kiwi, whom I accidentally mistook for an Australian by his "Hi". And together, the five of us made our own stay pretty wonderful.

 From Antigua we also visited a nearby volcano: the Pacaya. The climb was steep, but either because I was mentally prepared for it, or because I "rented" a walking stick for the mental support, it was easier than I had expected it to be. The surface of the volcano was like that of a moon's, if anything. Black, full of rocks, craters, and cave like places which emitted a lot of smoke at the top. The view was ridiculusly gorgeous, with the three other nearby volcanoes in full view: Agua (water), Acatenango, and Fuego (Fire, which is active, and we saw its fumes at the tip from where we were standing.). Near the top, the ground was warm. And we did the funniest thing to make us realize we were on top of a volcano: we roasted Marshmellows on the top by the heat of the lava! Surreal. Forreal.


 The Gypsy

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