01.07.2011 - 03.07.2011 75 °F
This weekend was wild.
We started our day off “normally” – breakfast and school. In the afternoon, it got a whole lot more exciting. We waited for our bus for thirty minutes before finally calling Carlos to make sure that we were still getting picked up. We were the last of many stops this particular bus was making before heading to Semuc Champey. This tiny van, which can hold up to 15 (uncomfortable) people, was already carting around 14. We piled in the front next to the driver and set off for our 8 hour trip. We had read that bus rides in Guatemala can be a little frightening – way to go Lonely Planet, you were right on with that one! We spent the next eight hours with our fingers crossed as we passed cars (double yellow, uphill, around blind turns), skidded on the wet and winding roads and at times feared that the van would not be able to carry us up the hill (turns out, the Carlos was simply driving 15 km/hr in order to make sure his wife was home when he dropped his daughter off. This had many of us passengers nervous, including a French man who in panic took out his phone and began calling people. Which begs the questions, “Who was Pierre calling?”).
When we finally arrived at our eco lodge, El Retiro, it was well after 10pm and the men working reception were anxious to leave for the night. After several minutes searching for our reservations, Carlos told us that our room was not available. Instead, we would have to sleep in a different room which we would have to climb to. This sounded like a fun adventure until we saw our room and realized that it was already occupied… by more than 10 cockroaches! We quickly climbed back down and returned to reception where we pleaded with Carlos to find us another room. (It sounded mostly like this: H y L - Lo siento, no es posible. C – No hay mas habitaciones. H y L - İLo siento, no es posible! C – No hay mas habitaciones. H y L - İNO ES POSIBLE! C – Hay dos camas en un dormitorio.)
We did end up in a 10 person dorm, which we quickly realized was also home to at least two cockroaches (one dead, one alive). We decided that this would have to work, dropped our bags and followed the music to the bar in the lodge where we ordered two Brahvas (arguably the most popular beer in Guatemala) and two shots of tequila. We figured this may be the only way to guarantee a good night’s sleep when we were sharing our room with so many creatures.
We spent the rest of the night chatting with the locals (including an awesome guy named Carlos who helps to run the lodge and promises that they do their best to rid the rooms of cockroaches) and other travelers (including a bunch of adorable and hilarious guys from Ireland named Patrick who kept us laughing until we fell (literally) into bed.
The next morning we were able to get our first good look at the lodge we were staying at. The fear of cockroaches began to pale in comparison to the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. The lodge, littered with cabins, hammocks and as many shades of green as you can imagine, sits just above a rushing river and was well worth the work it took to get there. After an amazing breakfast (fruit, yogurt, granola and honey), we took off for our day of adventures! We weren’t really sure what to expect, but we had been promised by Patrick that this would be the best day of our lives ever. Needless to say, we were pretty excited.
Our first stop was caving. (Well, actually, our first stop was cramming 16 people into the back of a pickup and holding on tight as we drove 30 minutes on a bumpy dirt road to the caves while holding on as tightly as possible. One the way, we passed one of our friends from the lodge, who had decided to run there instead. He was pretty hardcore - running in underwear while holding a knife. Enough said). When we arrived, we each grabbed a candle, lit it on the way in, and spent a couple hours wandering in the dark through twisting, winding canals. Let me tell you, swimming with a candle is as hard as you might expect it to be. We scrambled up and down waterfalls and even had the chance to jump off some rocks (but obviously, I chose not to). As I was crawling up and down ladders, holding close to the edges of walls and slipping (more than once), I couldn’t help but think that people would never be allowed to do something this dangerous (and awesome!) in the back home. Words cannot describe how amazing and exhilarating this experience was – but I would say that these few hours alone make a trip to Guatemala totally worth it!
After our morning of spelunking and a quick box lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches), we headed to see Semuc Champey. In case you haven’t heard of it, Semuc Champey is natural limestone bridges that cross the Rio Cahabon, and is often referred to as one of the most beautiful spots in Guatemala. While I haven’t seen much of this country yet, I would tend to believe that this is true. Our first stop was the mirado, which we reached after a steep hike, and offered us views the pools below. Between the hike and the humidity, I could not wait to jump in the water. We hiked down and then spent the next couple hours swimming from one pool to the next, jumping off rocks (again, I did not partake) and even going down natural waterslides. Now I truly agree with the poster I saw in Carlos’ office which said, “Guatemala: Nature’s way of exaggerating.”
Tubing down the river was our final stop before heading back to El Retiro. Heading down this river, surrounded by the beautiful rain forest was the perfect was to end this amazing day. Feeling incredibly rlaxed, we piled back into the truck for our bumpy ride back to the lodge – and I have the bumps to prove it!
After a quick shower, we took to the hammocks for some pretty awesome people watching. I don’t know if I was more intrigued by the guys in their underwear, the local selling friendship bracelets (thanks Heidi!), the couple doing yoga or the teenagers sitting next to me talking about their travels. These teenagers, who resembled Abercrombie and Fitch models, were taking a year off to travel before starting college. They were a tad pretentious and crude, but enjoyable to chat with nonetheless. They joined us for dinner and kept us fully entertained with their one liners and general shit talking abilities.
After such a long and day (not to mention a long night before), Heidi and I decided to turn in early. By the time we crawled into bed it was just after 10pm. Just after 10:30pm, two girls came into the dorm and turned on the lights. And started talking. And didn’t stop. They were later joined by three of their friends. At one point, I even rolled over to find one of them on the floor next to my bed (I later learned that he was trying to find a cockroach which he had hit off of Heidi’s bed). I laid in bed for the next hour with my headphones on as loud as possible, unable to sleep and seething. The next morning I awoke to the sound of their alarm (snoozing, of course). Quickly, the lights came on and the talking began again, not to stop until long after we got up two hours later.
I tried to contain my frustration with these girls, who also happened to join us on our ride back to Antigua, with little success. I couldn’t help a snide remark when one of these girls, who was sitting closer than I, asked me to close the door to the van. “Sure I can, but so could you!”
The ride back to Antigua was quite possibly a more frightening experience than the trip there. The first couple hours were with a new driver and the beautiful scenery was made even more entertaining by the fact that our hilarious friend Jeremy was also in the same van. It didn’t hurt that there were a few adorable (and chatty) guys from Atlanta. When we arrived in Coban things took a turn for the worse when we were told that here were problems with the van and that Carlos, our driver on Friday, would be taking us the rest of the way. At first, Heidi and I were excited to see Carlos. Then we realized that Carlos was in a hurry. We quickly learned there would not be a stop for lunch. Then we learned that there would not be a stop to get a snack. Finally, we learned that there would not be a stop to use the bathroom! Carlos told us he needed to be back in Antigua at 2pm (cutting two hours off our Friday trip) and he meant it. Carlos drove much faster and more dangerously than he did on Friday and was not happy when I hopped out of the van to use the bathroom when he stopped to get gas. In fact, he did not stop honking until we had all returned, and we were so concerned that he might leave without someone that we refused to get back into the van until everyone was done.
This was this first time I have worn a seatbelt since I arrived in Guatemala. It is also the first time that I literally feared for my life. (Sorry mom, I’m safe now.)
Carlos was able to make his 2pm deadline and given that we arrived back in Antigua early, we were able to check out the local market which is only open on Sundays. There Heidi, Jeremy and I tried various street food as I tried to make friends with a local boy (he didn’t answer any of my questions, but he did look at me and laugh as he picked up a bottle from the garbage and threw it in the street). On our walk home, we realized that Antigua really comes alive on Sundays. I guess we can thank Carlos for the experience!
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