February 8, 2017
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....So much happened during our time in the country known as Guate. We rode in our first tuk-tuks, we hiked and swam at Semuc Champey, Karin almost died tubing on the rapids of the Cahabón river, we visited the towns of Lanquin, Flores, Cobán, Rio Dulce, El Estor, Antigua, Guatemala City, El Paredon, Lago De Atitlan ( and the surrounding villages of Panajchel, San Pedro, San Marcos). We camped at a coffee farm on the side of a volcano, we were carjacked by a rooster, we celebrated Halloween and thanksgiving with friends, my mother flew in and spent time with us, we witnessed the Burning of the Devil, we got a personal trainer, worked out with the Costa Rican rugby team and spent six weeks nursing our sweet Gracie back to health. We extended our visas once in a completely legitimate way and another time…by way of a more questionable method - so much to talk about!
Coming into a new country, you never quite know what to expect. After staying six months in Mexico and six weeks in Belize, we decided to move through Guatemala a bit faster, planning on roughly six weeks for the very large country. Five months later, we finally crossed out of Guatemala into El Salvador.
Guatemala was far more similar to Mexico than to Belize but still has a very distinct culture and style. Most women wear traditional Mayan outfits, the hillsides are covered in corn farms and its clear that deforestation for farming is a major and unchecked problem in the country. There are a few well-maintained highways but by and large the roads of Guatemala were in far worse shape than anywhere we had been so far.
We were immediately surprised by how expensive things were in Guatemala. There were definitely areas that were more of what we expected than others but for some reason I had the mistaken prior notion that Guate would be one of the cheaper places to visit.
We began our trip into Guatemala by stopping in Flores. A small town in the middle of a lake that seems to be every traveler’s introduction to the Guate way of life. Flores was more developed and not to be insulting but more "civilized" than we had expected - most travel around Flores is done by way of small boats called Lanchas. As it turned out, very few things about Guatemala were as we expected. It wasn't the first time on this trip that I have been led to the questions: Why do humans create expectations? How do we form these expectations? Once we have them, how do they influence our perceptions? Why do we bother to conflate the world into a collection of expectations, when the world is perfectly capable of conflating itself?
We camped at a hostel called Chaltunha with our friends Here Until There and Cornwall 2 Capehorn. The view of Flores from the high overlook at Chaltunha was nothing short of exquisite.
This is a video taken by Here Until There of our view at night from the campsite. The light shows were spectacular.
Becoming victims of crime, particular robbery, while on this trip, has always been an obvious possibility but what we did not expect was that we would get carjacked. By a rooster named Paco. Paco is a three month-old rooster who lives at Chaltunha. He extended the feather of friendship to us all the while plotting his heist. Once our guard was down, he attacked Karin's foot, jumped into the car and ordered us to Drive, Drive, Drive!
Most people visit several ruins, particularly Tikal, while in Guatemala but we had seen so many in Mexico and Belize that we just couldn't take any more for awhile. From Flores we left our friends and headed south to Rio Dulce. Rio Dulce was beautiful but essentially just a large river and didn’t have as much to offer or see as we had hoped and there weren’t great camping options. Its also possible we were just a little camped out at this point. We pulled into a Hotel and asked if we could camp in their parking lot. They were very kind and not only let us camp but also let us use the pool, their wifi and electric and opened a room for us to use the bathroom.
Talking to the local residents led us to a volcano-fed hot spring called the Cascades de Paraiso or more commonly, Aguas Calientes, that turned into a boiling waterfall feeding into a cool pool.
This was the only shower either of us had for several days. The weather was scorching, the air was sticky. I was homesick. This was all a recipe for the complete meltdown I had, almost ending our trip early. But, it wasn't the first, it wouldn't be the last and at times like this all you can do is call home, cry, get a hotel room or Airbnb, take a hot shower, sleep in a real bed, shake it off and keep going.
I knew that what we needed was something amazing, scenery that would blow us away. Semuc Champey was just what the doctor ordered.
After seven hours of the roughest road of our trip to date (and one of my favorite adventures!), we finally made it into the town of Lanquin where we set up camp at a hostel called Utopia.
Check out a few minutes of our drive here:
Semuc Champey is beyond adequate description. It’s a natural bridge over a white water river made from years and years of mineral deposits. The bridge has formed into a series of natural pools featuring the bluest and clearest water I’ve ever seen. The two days we spent at Semuc more than made up for the time and wear and tear on the car and our bodies to get there . We took far more pictures than I can post here but this slideshow is a sampling:
Look for Guatemala - Pt. 2: Guat Really Matters, in just a few days!
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