The bus ride from Flores to Lanquín was approximately 9 hours with no AC. Even though it was a private shuttle booked through the hostel, it felt like a collectivo. We made a thirty minute stop in Coban for food and restrooms. We actually stopped at this resort hotel, so it was really nice. I almost walked into the middle of a business presentation in a dining room. Clay and I didn’t want to eat at the hotel because it was very expensive. Instead, we walked into town and found a small cafe. We ate a quick but hearty meal for only 20Q (Quetzales). The XR for Q to USD is about 7, so we are for about $3 USD a piece. I love how cheap Guatemala is compared to Mexico and Belize.
We arrived in Lanquín around 5 or 6 PM. Workers from our hostel were waiting at the bus stop to hitch us a ride. About 10 of us piled into the back of a pickup truck outfitted with a metal cage in the bed. This is quite a site to see but it’s the normal medium of transportation for the locals here. The roads are quite bumpy, too, so you have to hang on for dear life. We stayed at a place called El Retiro Lodge. This place was INCREDIBLE. It only costed 40Q for two nights because of a promotion they are running this month. That means I stayed there for less than $7 USD. This was a steal because it was so beautiful. I could not believe I was staying in a dorm-style hut in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the mountains, in Guatemala for so cheap.
Dinner was provided to guests for only 50Q. The first night it was all you can eat chicken kabobs with loads of other dishes. After dinner, Clay and I spoke with some people from Israel for hours. The cultural idiosyncrasies between Israel and the US are fascinating. It’s customary for Israeli’s to travel for 1-2 years after they get out of the service. They don’t just travel anywhere, either. Typically, the have to cross the ocean to the US, Central, or South America or it’s not considered real travel. I also found it interesting that most Israeli’s I’ve met very much like President Trump. I keep on finding myself wondering why travel is not engrained in American culture. Only 30% of Americans have passports and only 10% leave North America annually. That’s crazy. I’m starting to realize that American culture is so centered around working and building wealth that people feel there is no time to travel. Most are on this artificial timeline to go to high school, go to college, work, get married, have kids, work more, and then retire and travel when they can. I aim to defy this standard and travel more while I am still young.
The next morning a group of roughly 15 people (including myself) traveled to the jungle oasis known as Semuc Champey, or “Smokey Champagne.” We again piled into the back of the pickup truck for a 45 minute journey to the site. Our first sight once we arrived was at the top of a 700 KM hike up the mountain. This was absolutely excruciating. It was literally 700 KM of stairs going straight up. I’m not in good shape for the Acatenango volcano hike in a few days (4,000 KM). Climbing all those stairs was worth it though. The viewpoint we stopped at is called El Mirdador. The view was beautiful. Our guide climbed a tree overhanging the edge to take better pictures of us. Then he let us try black pepper leaves and cacao fruit. Cacao is used to make the most amazing chocolate here.
Next, we hiked back down the mountain 800 KM. This took us to the first set of pools where the water was ice cold. We had all been sweating so much from our hike that the crispness of the water was beyond refreshing. We stayed here for about an hour then proceeded to las grutas (the caves). The cave tour wasn’t nearly as long or adventurous as the ATM tour in Belize. However, this cave tour had a twist—there were no headlamps. Alternatively, everyone received a candle to light the way. The challenge was keeping it above water when swimming. I’m the cave, we climbed a waterfall via rope and scaled the cave wall for a cliff jump. This was quite scary but totally worth it.
We emerged from the darkness of the caves to a complete downpour outside. The rain was cold and piercing, yet still warmer than the water in the cave. Our next stop was this giant set of waterfalls with wading pools beneath. A few of us guys followed the tour guides up this cliff. The cliff wasn’t that steep but the downpour made it difficult and dangerous. I’m beginning to learn that I’m an adrenaline junky. Our first jump spot forced us to cross the waterfall. This one was just under 10 meters. The second jump was a much harder climb. This one was over 10 meters high. You had to be careful not to jump too far to the right or left otherwise you’d land on rocks. I followed the guide’s lead and hit just the right spot. It was the biggest adrenaline rush of this trip yet. Everyone else went back to the hut to hide from the storm, but the guide and I climbed back up for another jump. I fell s little forward this time and impacted my chin on the water pretty hard. No concussion, thankfully.
The guide and I sprinted back to the hut with branches flying every which way around us. The whole group made a run for the pickup truck. This was the worst part of the whole day. We froze to death on the back of the pickup the whole way back to El Retiro. Of course, as soon as we arrived it warmed back up and the rain ceased. Clay and I met this awesome couple from Belgium and Holland on the tour (named Sarah and Casper). We all decided to go back into town and grab some liquor for the night. We tried this local vodka called Quetzalteca that was essentially rubbing alcohol. We all returned back to El Retiro. Before dinner, we drank 500 mL each, so we were fairly intoxicated. The liquor made El Retiro’s pizza buffet even better. We ate dinner with a group of Italians, Germans, French, and Belgians. A big topic of conversation was Nicaragua. I had some insider information from one of my coworkers Javier Infanzon. He warned me the following “today I talked with the local distributor and told me the government released prisioners from jail to cause fear among the population and have an excuse to use the army, the social media and news are controlled by them and no one knows what is really happening there.” I have therefore decided to stay out of Nicaragua on this trip. I am very bummed because the landscape there is beautiful. I suppose I can always come back sometime.
We decided to go get more liquor after dinner (bad idea). This is when things got scary. There were some local Guatemalans drinking in the street next to the store. One of them had a dog that snuck up on Sarah and licked her ankle. She got startled and shuffled away. The local got offended by this and started threatening us saying things like “you better get out of here before I get mad” and “I know where you’re sleeping.” He then started hurling gender insults about Sarah and tourists in general. Clay and Casper were inside bargaining prices with a vendor so they had no idea any of this was even happening. I felt extremely uncomfortable so I took Sarah with me and walked down the street away from the locals. They threw empty and full beer cans at us as we walked away. Thankfully, they sucked at aiming. I was so beyond mad at that situation because up until then, I hadn’t had any problems with the locals. All the Guatemalans before this moment had been kind and welcoming. The town was regarded as a safe place. We eventually returned back to the hostel but Sarah was scared they were going to follow us back. We all stayed up for a few more hours and we’re joined by some Australians we met the day before.
Yesterday morning most of us woke up way too hungover for this 12 bus ride to Antigua. But, at least we’re all safe. Right now, I am traveling with Clay, many Israeli’s, and a group of Australians. Luckily, one of the Australians on the bus is a doctor so she an excess of anti-nausea pills on hand. I took one when we arrived in Coban to settle my stomach. I also ordered this personal margarita pizza that was quite tasty. Towards the end of the ride, all of the Israeli’s we’re teaching us how to speak Hebrew. We learned things like Shalom, Manishma, Benzona, and few others. I also met a local Guatemalan on the bus named Bruno. Bruno was an 18 year old student at the local university. We talked for a long time and ended up exchanging books because we both wanted to learn each other’s language better. It was really cool.
We arrived to Bigfoot hostel around 8 PM. I was exhausted and so was Clay, so we said we were both going to go straight to bed. Bigfoot had other plans for us. We arrived ten minutes before the weekly beer pong tournament. The receptionist must asked us if we wanted to join so I said ¿por que no? This became our team name. I quickly stuffed down a pote of tacos before the rounds began. Entrance to the tournament was free and the top four spots got the following prizes 1st: $100 USD, 2nd: a $50 USD tab at a local bar, 3rd: a free night at a surf beach hostel in El Peradón, 4th: a free massage at a local parlor. Despite being as tired as we were, Clay and went undefeated our first three games. We faced two Aussie’s in the quarterfinals and destroyed them. Next, we faced a couple from New Zealand in the semi finals. We thought we could beat them easily because they had been getting lucky all night. Turns out, their luck continued while ours did not. We lost in the last minute because they sank two cups back to back to take the lead. The New Zealanders went to the ship against two locals who play competitively for Canada’s national beer pong team (this makes no sense to me). Essentially, everyone from Guatemala was rooting for the locals while all the backpackers were rooting for the New Zealanders. I had never seen so many people intently watching a game of beer pong before. Eventually, the locals won. Even though ¿Por Que No? didn’t win first, we still placed third and won the free night in El Peradón. I am really excited to go there now! Anyways, today I will hike around Antigua and check the city out. This is the exact city that propelled me to do this trip while I was studying in Spanish class one day. I read about it in my textbook. It actually feels a little surreal I’m here right now. Ramón just got into town so we might try to meet up with him. Then, in a few days, we’re going to do the treacherous Acatenango volcano hike. This is the trek I’m most exited for on this entire trip. As always, thanks for reading and following my journey!
Countries I Have Met People From: