Saturday, May 9, 2009

Catching Up

This post was first drafted on our last day in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala, more than 3 weeks ago. We didn't manage to get it posted before we left, so it is more than a little delayed. We've covered a lot of ground since then, some of it painful and all of it interesting, so hopefully the next two posts will get everyone caught up. Also, the pictures from the previous post are now posted to the "photos" section of the site....

Antigua, Guatemala

Until reaching Antigua, what we'd seen of Guatemala consisted of the slightly run down, hot and dusty towns of Flores and Fronteras, so we were pretty thrilled upon reaching Antigua. We'd heard it was a cool town, but weren't prepared for the cobbled streets, ethnic restaurants, bars, cafes, and general European feel to the city. Not to mention the mercifully cool weather. After the insane temperatures of Rio and Flores, the 50 degree nights of the Western Highlands of Guatemala felt like heaven!

Antigua is the original Capital city of Guatemala, and still would be were it not for the unfortunate geological fact of being surrounded by volcanoes. Apparently its forefathers weren't the most fore thinking, if you get our drift. While in Antigua we hiked the nearby Pacaya volcano, the most active volcano in Central America. The hike would have been easy, except I had been crippled by less-than-vigilant dietary habits over the previous few days. Nevertheless, I was motivated by the fact that Pacaya had experienced a significant eruption the night before, and fresh lava flows beckoned. Unfortunately, our group dawdled a bit too much on the way to the top, and the park rangers caught us from behind and prevented us from climbing to the very top. "Too dangerous", they claimed. Prudes. My dreams of poking my walking stick into molten lava dashed, we were forced to admire the lava flows from more than a 100 yards away while roasting marshmallows over the ground. Stand still in one spot too long and the ground would melt your shoes. It was like being miniature people in a large gas grill!

Back to School

After Antigua we headed to Xela, even higher up in the Western Highlands, for a week of language school. We chose Xela for its lack of English speakers, knowing it would force us to use nothing but Spanish. It was a nice idea, but how incredibly exhausting! We enjoyed 5 hours per day of one-on-one instruction, materials, three meals a day, and a home-stay with a local family for the grand total of $140 per person for the whole week. Hard to beat that kind of educational bargain. Of course, there were a few minor inconveniences, like the bathroom that lacked a light, and hot water! Still, it was an experience we wouldn't trade for anything.

While we were in Xela, Semana Santa (Holy Week) was in progress. The streets were completely shut down and filled with Alfombras (religious iconography painted on the street like a carpet with dyed sawdust) and parades reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus. For those of you who haven't been to Central America recently, Jesus is big there. It was quite a production.

After our week of language school, we decided to try to soothe our incessant stomach ailments with a trip to the hot sulfur springs of Fuentes Georginas. Wow are these puppies hot. The hottest jacuzzi on the planet is tepid bath water compared to these suckers! Of course, we had to share them with about 300 of our closest Guatemalan friends, all of whom decided to pee in the water judging by the infection I got in a cut on my toe. Still, it was a beautiful and refreshing experience.

Relaxing on Lake Atitlan

We capped off our inland Guatemala travels with a few days in beautiful lake Atitlan. We splurged on our nicest hotel experience in Guatemala (a whopping US$25/night), ate wonderful meals, enjoyed one of the coolest bars on the planet (Zoo La), and kayaked about the lake. Thinking we'd get soft if we didn't do something active, we decided to hike up the San Pedro volcano on Easter Day. Three hours to the top, we were told, a lovely hike with great views. Three hours my ass. Lizz and myself, relatively fresh off a half-marathon, were joined by two 6'2" Germans and a 6'4" Australian who had just run a 60 mile (yes, 60 MILE) race. We all nearly died. Turns out the 3 hour "hike" was over 3000 feet of vertical, damn near straight up, and all at altitude. It took us almost four hours to reach the top, and I think it cost me a lung. At one point Lizz asked that we leave her to die. I don't know who makes it in three hours, but I know everyone in our group would like to meet these people, and would love to know what planet they are from.

Back to the Rio, off to Belize

After a juanty 8 hour chicken bus ride we were back in balmy (searing) Rio Dulce. While we had a great time in Guatemala, we were both ecstatic to get back to white sand and clear water. Our new friends Warren and Tam joined us as we cleared out of Guatemala and headed up through the southern cays of Belize's barrier reef. We were on our way to Plancencia to meet my friend Scott, and we had absolutely no idea of the adventures that awaited us. Lizz will fill you in on those details shortly.....

posted by: Kevin


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