Monday, April 27, 2009

Lago de Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is volcanic in origin and is recognized as the deepest lake in Central America. It is absolutely gorgeous...on a clear day. However, we arrived during crop burning season leaving the skies hazy most of the time.

Anna and I met up with Joe in Panajachel after the trek to enjoy some kick-back time on the lake. We made our way to San Pedro and found our cheapest accommodations yet... 25Q (about $3.12) per person per night for a room with 3 beds and a bathroom. After lunch (I had a veggie burger and fries in this super touristy village), we walked around a bit then sat at the internet cafe to catch up on email. That evening after dinner, I was feeling a bit off. I headed back to the room and was ill for the rest of the night. I won't go into details, but it wasn't pretty. Many apologies to Anna and Joe for having to share a room with me that night. I stayed in bed the next day and started a round of Cipro and Imodium. We were originally planning on leaving the lake the next day, but decided to stay another as I recovered. This all turned out for the best because that extra day turned out to be beautiful with little haze. We rented two kayaks and Anna swam the 1.5 km across the lake as Joe and I paddled alongside. I was feeling fairly weak, but was still able to enjoy myself and even got in the water at the end of the trip. The water was warm and clear blue...absolutely divine.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Trek

3 dias. Nebaj a Todos Santos con Juan (our guia)

We headed out with our packs on our backs and boots on our feet last Tuesday for the 3 day trek to Todos Santos. Juan is from the aldea (village) of Palop which is along the way. This was his first time leading this particular route, but we were assured that he knew the way.

We started out heading pretty much straight switchbacks whatsoever. 'This is the road of our ancestors,' commented Juan. 'I am a weak and whiny gringa,' I thought to myself. We walked, and walked some more, and then some more until we reached the village where one of Juan's daughters lived. Her and her family treated us to a lunch of the Ixil region's traditional boxbole (a green leafy vegetable cooked and wrapped around corn masa). We trekked on after lunch until we reached Palop where we stayed the night. Juan and his family had built a small dormitory just for backpackers that pass through. It was quite comfy.

The next day pushed me to my limits. We probably made 4 to 5 very steep ascensions and descensions. It was slow going for me. And had I not just finished the Gold's Gym Challenge, I'm not sure how I would have fared. I think the main obstacle was altitude. I have lived at or near sea level for the past 20 years and we were at 7000 feet or higher. Every step I took uphill, I felt my lungs heave. I was sucking up water through my camelbak fast and was worried I would run out before finding the next tienda. Meanwhile, Anna chatted up Juan with her awesome Spanish skills...both way ahead of me. It was a very long day. We covered approximately 9 miles, got lost a couple of times, saw a lot of gorgeous and rugged country, and ended up in La Capellania at Juan's sister-in-law's house where we were greeted by some of the 15 children of the household.

It was a challenging evening. We were at the highest point of the trip (approx. 9000-10000 feet), which meant it was going to get very cold that night. Anna and I shared a bed for warmth with 6 blankets on top of us and were still cold (and this is summertime). I wondered how anyone could live there with no heat. But they do. Perhaps your body adjusts. It is a very rugged and difficult life. I am thankful for all the spoilings I have at home.

La Capellania to Todos Santos

We started out early the next day, taking last minute photos of the kids (to be posted later) before we left. It was another 9 mile day, but the terrain was much different... more level and along the carretera part of the way. I was feeling good, strong, and able despite lack of sleep and little food. As we entered into the region of Todos Santos we began to see children in traditional dress and large houses with the American flag painted on them. Juan said a lot of people from Todos travel to the U.S. to work and send home money, hence the 2-3 story houses.

Juan kept trying to convince us to hop on a pick-up or bus the rest of the way into town, but Anna and I had this vision of descending into the valley from the forest...yes, a bit cheesy, but just humor us here. It was a beautiful hike and I'm glad I didn't give up (I was ready to take a bus the rest of the way the day before).

The hike only produced a few blisters on my feet, but then I busted one open and made it bleed while walking around town in my flip flops. Oh woe is me.

We thought Todos Santos was going to be a super touristy town, but it didn't seem to be when we arrived. All the restaurants had been closed down and no beer is sold due to an excess of fighting. That left only comedors with comida tipica (beans, rice, fried chicken) which you can only stand for so many days in a row. We left a day early to meet Joe at Lake Atitlan in search of gringo food.

Mission accomplished. It was an amazing experience.

Scary Roads

On January 4th, 2009, there was a huge landslide on the road from Coban to Nebaj that rendered it impassable. A detour was created, however many people advised against taking it because it was unsafe (single lane, steep and curvy dirt road). Anna and I wanted to do a 3 day trek from Nebaj to Todos Santos and this was the most direct route to get to our starting point. Otherwise, we'd have to take a bus back to the Capital, then back up again, which would take twice as long. We took an informal poll of locals and extranjeros to see if it would help us choose our route. We ended up taking the detour. And while there were moments when I was a little scared, it really wasn't that bad. So...5 buses, 1 taxi, and two chickens (almost in my lap) later, we made it to Nebaj.

With all the fuss that was made over this road, I was way more scared on the roads we took yesterday and today. There is a stretch of carretera between Cocales and Mazatenango where the chicken bus drivers get a little out of control. There was more than once in the past two days when we almost hit an oncoming car while passing another. I remember at one point saying in my head after a near miss, 'Jesus f***ing Christ' and then looked up and saw the JesuCristo sticker on the front of the bus. I had to laugh.

(and by the way...we arrived safely in Antigua today)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eco Cabana o Casa de Anna, Joe, y Yo

A week of Spanish school...

Anna and Joe had been attending la escuela de Eco Cabana for several weeks and I decided to join them to get some more classes under my belt. Last week was Semana Santa and many people took it off of work to enjoy the holiday including the director of the school and the cook. We received a discount for attending this particular week, but had to shop for and cook our own food. Which sounds easy enough, but the school is located on a finca (farm) about a 15-20 minute bus ride from the nearest village of Chamelco...and that road is dirt, curvy, and up and down...which didn't bode well for my motion sickness problems. Going to market was challenging for me, but good for Spanish practice. I successfully bought fruit and veggies from the vendors, with help from Anna...whose Spanish is 100 times better than mine. I did get laughed at now and then, but in general, the people of the Alta Verapaz region were warm and very friendly. There were very few tourists...I can't even remember seeing any others at this point in time.

School was great. I felt like I was playing house with Anna and Joe as we were alone there most of the time when we weren't taking class. We cooked, listened to music, played cards, ran, and did yoga...and of course took classes every morning. I finally made it past present tense learning 4 tenses during the week! It was a lot to absorb and I need quite a bit more time to study, practice, and really KNOW everything but now feel I have the tools to continue on my own.

Lanquin y Semuc Champey

Anna and I met Joe, a friend of hers from Spanish school, in Coban on the Wednesday after I arrived. On Thursday we headed to the El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin where we soaked up some sun, played some frisbee, and lounged in the river.

Friday began with a tour of the caves near Semuc Champey. This consisted of carrying a candle as you periodically swam through water and climbed up and down ropes or ladders as we made our way through the cave system. It was pretty amazing and unlike anything else I've ever experienced.

Next we headed to a bridge where we had the option of jumping off it into the river below. I've never really jumped off anything very high before, but thought it was now or never. I do have pictoral proof, but the computer isn't recognizing my camera so I'll have to post later.

Off to Semuc... We were left on our own for a few hours and Anna, Joe, and I opted to hike to El Mirador before heading to the pools. It was a fairly steep hike, but only took 20 minutes to reach the top. From there we enjoyed a beautiful view of the piscinas of Semuc. to come. The afternoon was spent swimming and floating in water that was so clear you could open your eyes under water and they didn't hurt. I watched the leaves on the trees flutter in the breeze and listened to the sound of the waterfall (under water) as I floated on my back in bliss. Here's a pic of Joe enjoying the same...

The end of the day led us to a waterfall and another cave where the river flows through and rises above ground. We had to swim to and climb up the small cliff under the waterfall...and then jump off. Big jump number 2 for me. It was probably the same height or even less than the bridge, but a bit scarier as the river below had a strong current and was crashing up against a nearby rock. Thankfully I didn't hit that rock and landed safely in the water. Anna and I commented on how you probably wouldn't be able to experience anything like this in the states due to liablity issues. There wasn't really any survey of swimming skills and you didn't have to sign your life away. There were moments near the end, when I was tired and cold, that I thought I was going to slip and fall. But I didn't and I am glad I took the risks that I did. I had a blast.

Saturday consisted of another day of lounging before leaving on Sunday. It was a marvelous weekend. A great way to start Take 2 of Guatemala.

More to come...

It has been a whirlwind of a trip so far and I haven't been near fast internet for awhile now. I finally have some time and will try and post some updates.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Take 2

I spent October through March in Wenatchee living with my sister, taking a Spanish class, and participating in the Gold´s Gym Challenge. I often questioned how I was spending my hard earned time off. It seemed like such a privilege to not have to work that I felt I should be doing something really ´worthwhile´ with the time. Yet I didn´t. Then I beat myself up because I didn´t. Then I thought about the recent post of my friend href="", Anna describing how there is no judgement in Mexico as to how you choose to spend your day. It´s such an American value to always be doing something, accomplishing something and I realized that maybe I need to not be so judgemental of myself.

I did get to spend more time with my sister and most of the rest of my family than I have in the past 20 years and that was nice, that was a privilege of having that time off. I was also given the opportunity to get back in shape albeit in a kind of over-the-top-obsessive-type-of-way with the challenge. I can be a little competitive...ok...maybe a lot sometimes. The challenge gave me something to focus on, gave me some structure that I longed for. And through the course of it, I realized once again how important movement is to my is part of who I am and I wondered how I could let something that is such an essential part of who I am just disappear. I never replaced dancing with anything when I quit. We had to write an essay as part of the challenge: ´What did you learn about yourself during this process? and How will you continue?´ and these were ideas I included in that essay.

And now I am back in Guate. Take 2. I flew in last night and caught a bus with Anna to Coban this morning. Here we are sitting in an internet cafe and catching up on email before we head to Semuc Champey tomorrow. Anna has been traveling for the past 6 months. We met on my first day in Guatemala the last time I was here and have kept in contact since. She was going to go home earlier, but extended her ticket once I decided to come. I am thankful for that. Thankful for a travel companion as I was very lonely here last time.

More to come...