Tuesday, July 23 Quetzalentango, Guatemala (Xela) (1 on map)

(Click here for corresponding map of Guatemala)

I took a shuttle van to bus then bus to neighboring village Zunil looking for a weaving cooperative that I had heard about. I thought there were to be demonstrations but it was only a store, and expensive at that.

I went in a truck to the Aguas Fuentes, some mountain hot spring pools. The ride was absolutely gorgeous. Vertical farms on hillsides and made the hills look like a giant quilt, villages perched on the edge of a hill, women and men sorting piles of freshly picked veggies. It smelled like scallions all the way up. Saw every veggie imaginable growing on the hillsides.

Aguas Fuentes was nice, set right in the mountains. Very relaxing to soak. I met up with some travelers that I had met before, and while we were waiting for a ride back down, we watched as the clouds literally rolled down the valleys and sides of mountains, and soon couldn’t see but a few feet in front of us. It was a nice relaxing day. I wish I had been able to take pictures of the landscape, but it wasn’t possible without stopping the driver and making others wait.

Wednesday, July 24 Guatemala City, Guatemala (2 on map)

Today I went down to Guatemala City to stay over. I really had no intentions of going to the bigger cities, but I had to in order to get to my next destination. On the ride in I noticed small pockets of development that could have been straight out of anywhere USA. Gap, Pizza Hut, etc. Apparently in this very poor country there is a small population of wealthy people.

I had booked a hotel ahead and went straight there. Harassment is an issue here. I took a walk in the afternoon, and stopped for one moment to look at the map, and suddenly drunk old guy was slithering up next to me offering all sorts of assistance. I made enough noise in protest that he ran away rather quickly. The area I was staying in, the center of the city, is safe during the day but not so at night. I had only a few hours so decided to see something close by so I could get back to the hotel before dark.

I chose to see the National Palace, just next to the Central Park. It looked old and was very beautiful with wonderful murals depicting the Mayans and Spaniards in history. Turns out it was only built in 1943 and created to look much older. The guide took me to a room with some beautiful stained glass windows showing the 7 human virtues. I asked him why 1 and half of another had no color, only outlines in black. He told me in a very matter of fact manner that there had been a bomb explosion just a few years earlier during the civil war. That conversation made the fragility of the country very real.

Next to the palace was the main church, all decked out in yellow and white flags. The Pope was expected to visit in the next week, and the entire country was preparing. He is to canonize Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan monk who did work with sick children. He is buried in a church in Antigua and locals line up each day to pray to Herman Pedro. Anyway, here in GC was where the festivities were to take place.

Stayed in during the evening for safety reasons.

Thursday, July 25 Coban, Guatemala (3 on map)

This morning I had a very jarring bus ride to Coban, a mountain town. On the way I noticed that many patches of trees were cleared away and there were lumberyards everywhere. Many of the remains trees were diseased. It was a pine forest, unlike the other mountain areas I have seen in Guatemala. It was sad to see so much deforestation.

Coban is a cute little mountain village that reminds me of Santa Fe. I checked into a really cute hostel here only to find out there is a festival on in town and that there would be now room for the next few nights. In the meantime I met some other travelers that wanted to go to a nearby site called Semuc Champey. I had thought of doing a day trip, but after talking with them and doing a bit of research we decided to go to the village of Lanquin and the site on our own staying overnight. Most of the afternoon was spent preparing for this trip and we had to go to bed early as we had a very early bus. I was traveling with Jenny, another NYC teacher and a couple from Canada.

Friday, July 26 Lanquin, Guatemala, and Semuc Champey site. (4 on map)

We had to catch a 5:00 am bus so we were up at 4. The hostel let us store our bags overnight so we only had to take a smaller pack. We took a 3 ½ hour ride on a dirt road. It was so narrow that the bus would stop to let bigger trucks go by, and since it had rained so much we got stuck in the mud a few times. This is the only bus to go to Lanquin, most people go on an excursion day trip booked through a hotel, but this seemed more fun. Didn’t sleep on the bus with all the stopping and starting and bumps.

When we arrived in Lanquin we were bombarded with people offering to take us on to Semuc with trucks. First we found the hotel we wanted and of course it was full. We booked into the “annex” of that hotel, a hot little cement house with a bunch of beds and bugs. The hotel was actually a sort of “backpacker’s ranch” with a lodge, little huts, and 2 pet cows. Our room on the other hand was not cute at all, and very, very, hot.

The driver we chose then drove on to the site. It was another hour on a bumpy road in the pack of the pickup, but very beautiful, jungle area. Semuc Champey is a natural limestone bridge over a river with beautiful blue pools of water on. Very hard to describe, but beautiful! We had to hike in about 1 mile, then to get into the pools was very slippery. By hiking up to the top of the bridge I could see that river really did flow under what looked like a lagoon! WE spent a few hours here, and I ended up twisting my ankle again on the slippery rocks in the pools.

What a long day! After all this, I opted for a hammock back at the hotel for a nap, and later we went into the village for dinner. Many places here have “plate of the day” meal-essentially whatever they cook is offered for dinner. We had wonderful chicken, rice and beans and plantains.

Had to take another early bus so we all fell asleep by 8:00.

Saturday, July 27 Coban, Guatemala. (3 on map)

We had been told conflicting stories about the time of the bus, either 3:00, 4:30, or 5:00. We decided to aim for 4:30 as that is what most people said. We got up at 4 to wait on the road and at 3:55, we heard the bus going by! As we scrambled to get our stuff together to run up the hill after it, a guy with huge flatbed truck came by and offered to take us to Coban for the same price. We loaded into this truck in darkness—there were about 127 backpackers total in the truck, so we all had room to sit and spread out a bit. We soon discovered though that if we didn’t hold on tight we’d slide around and get splinters in our butts from the wooden bottom! Ouch! Turned out the bus was packed with people even riding on top, so it turned out better to take the truck. He made it back to Coban in under 3 hours, but we had to hold on brace ourselves with our feet the entire way. It rained so we were soaked as well!

In Coban we all went to our separate hotels and planned to meet up later. This was the first day of a festival and the Election of the Indigenous Queen. Most activities were in late afternoon ad evening. I went to my hotel for the best shower of my trip and even better nap.

Jenny and I met in the afternoon to walk to a church high on a hill that had great views. Afterwards we found our other friends and saw some dancing in the streets. Men were in all sorts of masks and costume, some were Mayan women, Spaniards, farmer, all sorts of animals, and many had brightly colored indistinguishable costumes on. There were 3 different groups doing dances at the same time, and they all willingly posed for photos. It was great! Street musicians came an joined in. WE found these impromptu performances all over.

The four of us had decided to go to the “Election” pageant and went to get our tickets. After dinner, we went, and it was quite a display of fireworks and pageantry in an auditorium. Then the women, one representing each indigenous tribe in Guatemala, came out in traditional dress and modeled. This went on until well after midnight, but I only lasted until 10:00. What a special day. I felt lucky to have seen a great festival.

Sunday, July 28 Antigua, Guatemala (5 on map)

We all had to get to Antigua for different reason, myself to check in for the sailing trip I was to take. We again took an early bus, 7:00, and got to Antigua in the early afternoon. The city was crazy with preparations for the Pope’s visit, and many people stay in Antigua and travel to Guatemala City.

Didn’t do much today but check in, relax and walk around for awhile. I checked in with the travel agency at 5:00 As instructed and discovered that the trip was canceled due to bad weather on the coast. I was disappointed! I was supposed to travel on Monday to Livingston, then board a sailboat early Tuesday morning for Omao, Honduras. I decided to go ahead and go to both places, but just without the sailboat.

The four of us parted in the evening as we were going our separate ways the next day.

Monday, July 29 Rio Dulce, and Livingston, Guatemala (6 on map)

In order to reach Livingston, an island at the mouth of Rio Dulce and the Caribbean Sea, I had to travel to the town of Rio Dulce (Fronteras) by bus, then Livingston by boat. When I arrived in Rio Dulce, I was met by captains trying to fill their boats and other travelers waiting to go. I got a boat with 7 other for the 2 hour trip.

The captain took us up the river stopping to see local riverside communities, Bird Island (a small island completely covered with white birds) and the thick jungle. The river was narrow in areas, and widened as we approached Livingston. It was a 2 hour trip, and well worth the time and money.

At Livingston I booked into a hotel that had beds on a porch for really cheap. It was a beautiful place overlooking the sea with nice breezes. Or so I thought. After walking around and having dinner, it poured rain so I decided to go back a read. The porch was all closed off so the breeze was nonexistent, mosquitoes were plentiful and it was hot and humid. I ended up sleeping very little, instead going to war with the mosquitoes—I lost that war! In the morning I was covered from head to toe with bites, in spite of using repellent.

The next installment will include crossing the border to Honduras, more wonderful ruins, and plenty more excitement! Stay tuned!