Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Finding Guatemala

So, I am back in Central America after a relaxing yet hectic 6 weeks in Kansas. I´ve been in Guatemala for more than a week now, but it feels like I´ve only been here for 5 days or so.

I arrived last Wednesday and immediately took a taxi to catch local transport (aka chicken bus, retired USA school bus) to Antigua. When I stepped off this crazy form of local transport, the first thing I see is a group of 20+ gringo tourists...hmmm not what I was expecting. Then again, it is summer in the states so I guess it makes sense. Moving on, I found a place to stay and started walking around the city to see what was going on. I found it to be a beautiful colonial city with a great market, and a long list of restaurants, hotels, and travel agencies, but few locals actually living there. It´s obvious that few can afford it.

I spent my second Antigua day walking around some smaller villages about a kilometer outside of the center, and on the third day I joined numerous other adventure seekers for a tour of Pacaya Volcano. It´s an hour and a half outside of Antigua and then and hour and a half hike up an active volcano to a point where you can see lava and melt your shoes if you´re not careful. I was surprised that nobody found this to be really dangerous...walking up hot, sharp rocks towards glowing lava is perfectly normal, but whatever you do don´t walk around Antigua late at night.

On Saturday, I left Antigua to head towards Lago Atitlan. I went with three other girls that I had met and we decided to be brave (aka cheap) and take the chicken buses to the lake. Our journey included 3 bus transfers, hours of rain, walking in the rain and taking a small boat across the lake in the rain. We finally arrived in San Marcos wet, cold, and tired, but miraculously still in good spirits (probably because we were smart enough to realize San Marcos was too small to find a bottle of wine and bought a couple before taking the boat).

The rain didn´t stop, so Sunday we took a boat to another village on the lake called San Pedro. We had a few dry hours there, not long enough to actually dry anything, and then it started raining and didn´t stop. I wasn´t impressed with the village or the weather. Despite the fact that I didn´t really want to pack up all my wet clothes and leave the lake after such a short visit, I had to get out of there. I just wasn´t enjoying it at all. Luckily, one of the other girls felt the same way, so we were off again back to Antigua for the night.

On Tuesday, we went to Coban despite the fact that "there´s nothing to do there" according to many. We easily found a cheap place to stay and some locals gave us some good information on where to go. The next day we visted a more traditional mayan village outside of Coban that was surrounded by mountains and a nice lagoon. The weather was dry, the sun was out, we were the only tourists in the village and I was happy to finally feel like I was in Guatemala.

By Wednesday night we were in a rustic hostel right outside of Semuc Champey, which is a famous place to visit water pools formed by a limestone bridge going over a river. We spent Thursday morning wandering around the park and swimming in the pools before heading to Chisec, another small village Thursday evening. I really don´t have much to say about this town, probably because my immune system reminded me that although I can take these insane forms of local transport where 22 people (I counted) are in a van made for 15, I should not eat like a local.

I´m now in Flores which is a nice tourist spot set on a lake with easy access to Tikal (mayan ruins). I´m still trying to figure out what Guatemala is all about. Two weeks is obviously not enough time, but I´ve moved around a lot and therefore seen at least a few different parts of the country.

I´m leaving out so many details...like waking up in Coban at 4:30 am to a teenage boy lighting off hundreds of firecrackers in the middle of the street (why?), riding in the back of a pickup to get to Semuc Champey or the little boy who stared at me off and on for an hour today on the bus. I guess for another day...

1 comment:

sarahp said...

walking up volcanoes, Mayan ruins & Tikal, bottles of wine traveling with new friends, Guatemalan food.. :) sounds like another great adventure! The limestone bridge and pools sound amazing too. Happy travels!